The train blew one last whistle, and Professor Flume reluctantly picked up her duffle bag. Her concern was directed at the two eager Hufflepuff sixth-years holding a leather suitcase between them.
“I should be back from the conference by Sunday afternoon. Don’t forget to complete those applications. I want to submit my two best candidates by owl as soon as I return.”
“You can count on us!” Lysander called out as the train pulled away from the Hogsmeade platform. Lorcan gave their Care of Magical Creatures professor a quick salute. The Scamander brothers watched until the train was way out of sight. When they were sure that Professor Flume wouldn't suddenly Apparate back to take the case away, they looked at each other eagerly.
“Can you believe it? We’re babysitting dragon eggs for the weekend!”
After dinner, Lysander walked his girlfriend to the rotating staircase. They planned to hang out later in the Gryffindor Common room with her friends, just like last Friday. He didn’t mind really. His friends were all quiet, and he spent too much time with his brother as it was. Changing things up was good.
Tonight, he was bursting to tell someone besides his brother (who already knew), all the dragon egg details he could remember.
“So we get them all weekend, isn’t that great?”
Rhea Sinistra was too focused on the posters that were quickly lining the walls of the castle corridor. Lysander ducked as a giant scroll flew past and self-stuck to the wall.
She let out a squeal. “Valentine’s date night, that’s tomorrow! And look, Ly!” she said, using the pet name that he was slow to accept, “It’s a contest! The date voted as the sweetest, most romantic gets a prize. I just know you have something fantastic planned!”
People had told Lysander that he was charming, and sweet all the time. He didn’t doubt that she’d enjoy the plans he’d made for tomorrow, just like she’d enjoyed his other dates - he was a good planner after all - but something about the way the cartoonish cherubs on the poster winked at him, or maybe the whole idea behind the advertisement rubbed him the wrong way.
“I don’t know,” Lysander said. “Seems silly to make a date into a contest.”
“Didn’t you see? The winner gets a signed broom from the Chuddley Cannons, made out of chocolate! Anyone would want one. Even you, the only guy in the castle who doesn’t care about Quidditch.”
It was hard to go wrong with chocolate, he agreed, but he was far from the only one in the castle who didn't appreciate Quidditch. His brother hated it, for one, and his best mate Ainsley only watched when Ravenclaw played because she felt obligated to support her House. Okay, so she wasn’t a guy, but she made a great stand-in for one. He cringed, thinking of her that way, she was more to him than that, but the image lent itself to winning the argument in his head… it was factual that far more guys at Hogwarts weren’t as chuffed about the sport as Rhea assumed.
Maybe it was a Gryffindor thing, which he never quite understood. They had this obsessive-compulsive streak when it came to sports and House pride - he could only guess that the whole lot of them were some variant of hyper-focused ADD or something.
“The whole castle’s doing it. It’ll be fun!”
He had to admit that all of their dates so far had been perfect. Rhea had been thrilled with the pink carnation on their first date and the silly poem he’d written the week after. With a few weeks of observing her in the Great Hall, he’d managed to extrapolate her preferred flavors and went the extra mile to get Honeydukes to repackage their small four-pack of assorted truffles with her favorite and have it owled to her on their one-month anniversary. Things must be going well enough since she’d wanted her friends to meet him, and he didn’t mind being shown off. The only thing he’d regret about spending another evening sitting on the garnet and gold, charisma-infused couches with Quidditch-heads and overstuffed egos (no really, they were all NICE people, but he wasn’t going to deny his keen observations) was that he’d have to wait to tell her more about the dragon eggs.
He might have to wait until never. Rhea was never interested in animals. Or much that he had to talk about, really. It was mostly her stuff and her friends, and Gryffindor-everything.
That was alright. He knew one person in the world who would be over the moon about the dragon eggs. He stood awkwardly as Rhea pecked a kiss on his cheek and went to speak to someone about something else Gryffindor. They’d meet back up in an hour, which gave him just enough time to find Ainsley so he could share his good luck with her.
“A summer internship with Charles Weasley on the Dragon Reservation in Romania?? Are you pulling my chain?” Lorcan exclaimed, adjusting his obnoxiously tomato-red bowtie in the mirror. He wore it right after classes ended every Friday so the identical brothers wouldn’t have to deal with the hassle of mistaken identity on the weekends.
“It says that he’s personally taking applications,” Lysander read from the scroll.
“That’s perfect! We’re already babysitting eggs, right?”
“Right. Wait. Riiiiight!” Lysander grinned from ear to ear. “We’ll do more than that. We’ll include a copy our very own dragon egg observation journals.”
“Yeah,” Lorcan agreed. “But what would put us over the top… would be a bribe.”
They’d done a lot of research on their favorite researcher. Suddenly, Lysander had a brilliant idea. “Lorcan, you’re going to need a date for tomorrow night!”
“There’s no time for that nonsense. I’ve got projects due on Monday.”
Lysander always thought his brother would make a great Ravenclaw. Then again, if Lorcan’s wit grew any sharper, they’d have to file it down for public safety. That, and he’d likely get his eyes pecked out for his heavy-handed sarcasm. Not that it had ever happened, but Ainsley had confirmed that the Ravenclaw doorknocker had an unusual way of staring you down so that you felt like it might leap out at you if you said something stupid enough.
“Did you see the posters? Whoever wins the dating contest gets a Chuddley Cannons broom, signed by the team.”
“Quidditch,” Lorcan said with the distaste of someone who just said ‘spinach’. “That won’t help with Advanced Potions.”
Lysander had learned as an absolute from dating Rhea for these recent six weeks, that she personally had no interest in brooms, and she minded her sweets. The only thing she wanted was bragging rights if they won. That was why his idea was so brilliant.
“Charley Weasley loves the Cannons. And the broom is made out of chocolate.”
“OOOOhhhh!” Lorcan’s grin exploded. Then it disappeared. “I’d have better luck taking a Gulping Plimpy to dinner.”
“Look, this time you won’t get your drink thrown in your face, and it’ll be perfect. It’s a win-win. I’ve already got a plan, and…”
“Actually, having a Plimpy for dinner isn’t bad. They’re delicious.”
While Lorcan’s macabre mutterings expanded to endangered species recipes and banned potions ingredients, Lysander’s mind raced. He needed a girl who could handle Lorcan’s dark humor and not hurl glassware. Or at least someone with poor aim. Lorcan had just about alienated every female in their House, and he definitely wasn’t into guys, so Lysander found himself thinking outside the yellow-and-black box. “Wait! I know just the girl too. Ainsley.”
“Ainsley, the don’t-touch-her-or-I’ll-break-your-arm-because-she’s-my-best-mate Ainsley?”
“I promised her that I’d help her get a date, and well..I kind of forgot, and there’s this contest, so now you’re going to take her…”
“But I’m the worst date ever, and she’s your best mate. I’m not throwing shade between you to win a stupid contest.”
Lysander smiled at that comment. Lorcan could be a right pain, but he respected Ainsley too much to give her his normal harassment routine.
“It’s simple. All you have to do is follow my foolproof plan. She’ll vote for us.”
“You mean she’ll vote for you. And she is cute. I’d definitely take her over a Plimpy any day.”
His brother waggled his eyebrows in time with his ridiculous bowtie, and Lysander swore there was innuendo buried in there somewhere. “Just keep your hands to yourself!”
Lorcan snorted. “Who follows ‘first date’ rules anymore? If you’re so concerned, why don’t you take her out yourself?”
“I’ve got a girlfriend, remember?”
At least for now he did. Sometimes, he didn’t feel like Rhea was actually trying to get to know him the way he was making the effort for her. He wondered if she’d even notice if someone else showed up in his place, as long as she got what she expected out of the day. Chocolates. Flowers. Over-the-top cuteness factor. He’d already worked everything out in his head, and it would be simple to duplicate.
All he had to do was convince Ainsley that she wanted the same thing from his brother.
Lysander and Lorcan had set up the suitcase on a sturdy table and borrowed a heat lamp from the Herbology greenhouse to keep the eggs evenly warm. That, with a charmed towel to maintain proper moisture, and the brothers had declared themselves expert egg-sitters.
But Ainsley wasn’t impressed. In fact, she was downright horrified at the sight of the two beautiful iridescent eggs sitting in the open case on his desk.
“Dragon eggs! Here?”
This was not what Lysander had imagined when he’d invited Ainsley over. Instead of the usual enthusiasm she showed to him on most any other occasion, Ainsley had completely shot down the setup in their dormitory. He felt oddly out of place seeing this different side of her and listening to her calling him irresponsible and unsafe. He was usually very good at reading people - it wasn’t much different from reading animals really - and he had been so sure that she’d have been just as excited, if not more so, to see the eggs. He’d been waiting all day to share this with her, and after being practically ignored by his girlfriend, he was having a hard time processing her negative reaction.
“We can keep an eye on them better here than having to run off to Professor Flume’s quarters every three hours. There’s a storm coming tonight anyway, and this way, we’re not getting wet or breaking curfew.”
His reasoning wasn’t making any headway with her.
“You’re not meant to have them in your room, Lysander.”
Lysander didn’t know why she couldn’t just be happy for him. He could understand it from Rhea, he even expected it. But not Ainsley. He had misjudged, and he was hurt, and he didn’t know why he’d thought he could count on her to be the one person who’d lift him up and understand how special this all was.
“I’m not meant to have you in my room either,” he retorted, “but you seem to show up often enough.”
“You asked me here, and ahh!” she screamed, before storming out of the room and slamming the door, earning angry shouts from the boys in the other rooms.
“Keep it down, Scamander! People are trying to study!”
“Bloody seventh-year Prefects think they own the school!” Lysander muttered at the recently slammed door.
Ainsley had just walked out on him.
“Flobberworms!” he exhaled and looked to his brother. “She’s really mad.”
“Well, you invited her here, and then you practically yelled at her to leave.”
“Yeah, and I feel absolutely horrible. There’s only one way to fix this. You have to ask her out now.”
“Do it yourself,” his brother muttered.
“But it has to be you.”
“No, dingo. It has to be you. I’m not stepping in… that…” Lorcan made a strange back-and-forth motion with his hands. “If you want her to go on a date with me, that’s fine. But you’re the one who insulted her. You apologize.”
At Lorcan’s stare, Lysander relented. “Right. Give me your tie.”
Lorcan squinted, but handed the bowtie over. “I hope you know what you’re doing,” he muttered as Lysander hustled through the Hufflepuff Common Room to catch up to the fleeing Ravenclaw.
Just then, he realized that by doing this, he’d be late meeting Rhea for their Gryffindor evening. So far, he’d had a perfect boyfriend record. One tardy shouldn’t matter. Besides, knowing that he’d upset Ainsley wasn’t something he could just let go.
Yeah, he thought. I hope I know what I’m doing too.
Lysander adjusted the tie around his neck and stepped into the small alcove near the Ravenclaw staircase where Ainsley was staring off into the corner.
“Haven’t you yelled enough?” She turned to face him, her cheeks still red, and Lysander felt even worse. “Oh,” she said, seeing the bowtie. “It’s you.”
“I’m… Lysander’s sorry,” he said. What would Lorcan say? “He’s a dingo.”
“Yeah,” Ainsley sniffed.
“And before you came over, he said that he promised you something,” Lysander said, adding an edge to his voice, like his brother might.
“You’re supposed to have a date.”
Ainsley rolled her eyes. “Great. First he yells at me, then he sends you to rub it in.”
“Actually,” Lysander said. “I came to ask if you had plans tomorrow.”
Ainsley’s face morphed into something unreadable. That unnerved him even more. He was usually very good at this with Rhea. But this wasn’t Rhea.
He held his breath as she stood up and peered into his face. Then she flicked his bowtie with a finger. “Are you asking me out, Lorcan?”
He nodded, not trusting himself to speak.
On the way up to the Gryffindor Tower, Lysander couldn’t have felt lighter. Ainsley had said “yes”, like she didn’t even have to think about it. Why did it make him insanely happy all of a sudden? This went way beyond the contest, he realized. Maybe he’d wanted her to say “yes” to him all along, and he simply hadn’t gotten around to asking the right question yet. His mind raced with the possibilities. Maybe Rhea wouldn’t mind a stand-in for tomorrow after all, and he was sure he could get a box of Honeydukes chocolates in Ainsley’s favorite flavor by tomorrow as well. They did rushed owl-orders, after all.
Lysander shook his head. This was crazy. He couldn’t believe that he was actually contemplating what he was contemplating, until he came to a dead stop in front of the Fat Lady’s portrait that led to the Gryffindor Common Room and realized that he was still wearing that stupid bowtie. Suddenly, all the air inside the castle seemed to disappear.
Ainsley had just said “yes” to his brother.
“I’ve said yes to your brother.”
Lysander put down his fork and tried his best to look politely surprised. “Oh?”
“Yeah. Last night.” Ainsley sat down beside him at the Hufflepuff table, and poured some orange juice. For someone who was asked on the date they wanted, she didn’t seem very happy.
“Well, I hope you have a good time.”
“Thanks.” She refused to make eye contact. He couldn’t put his finger on her behaviour. She’d seemed okay last night, when ‘Lorcan’ had asked her out, but she was clearly keeping something from him, and he couldn’t deny that it hurt. He shrugged it off; maybe he’d get it out of her in Hogsmeade.
The twins got ready for their dates in their dormitory. They had the room to themselves; the other sixth year boys had already left for their Valentine’s Day plans. Ainsley's reaction had merit, and they'd made adjustments. Though one of their roommates would have jumped at the opportunity to help with the eggs, another was deathly scared of dragons, and the last boy had an allergy to reptiles, so both Lysander and Lorcan agreed it would be easier if their project remained secret.
Lysander knelt in front of the wardrobe the brothers shared, where the eggs were hidden inside a specially incubated case. It was nothing like the case belonging to their great-grandfather, but it kept the eggs safe and warm. As Lysander turned them and recorded the action, he said to Lorcan, “Remember, the date has to be sweet and romantic for us to win.”
Lorcan tugged at his hair in front of the mirror. “Remind me again why it’s me going with Rhea?”
Lysander shut the wardrobe door, and stayed on his knees to rummage under the bed for his shoes. “Look, if we both do this, we double our chances of winning. I promised Ainsley I’d find her a date, and it might as well be you, except you’re a horrible person around girls. I don’t want to see her get hurt. If you take Rhea, she won’t even notice it’s you, trust me. As long as she has a boy on her arm, she’ll be happy.” Shoes found, he pulled them on before jumping to his feet.
Lorcan let out a long, exaggerated sigh.
Lysander ignored him to check his watch. “Blibbering Humdinger! I’m so late. Can you make sure the case is locked?” He wrapped his scarf around his neck, ready to pull up against the cold or, more accurately, if Ainsley began to recognize him.
“Er, Lysander?” Lorcan said from where he stood in front of the wardrobe.
“Sorry, Lorcan, I’ve gotta go.”
“Good luck!” Lysander called over his shoulder before running out the door.
He slowed once he reached the common room. For the occasion, Professor Longbottom had planted an abundance of roses in the hanging pots; a rainbow of variety. Lysander picked the purple ones, and with a flick of his wand, bound them together with ribbon.
Being the romantic he was, Lysander had three things he always acquired on Valentine’s: flowers, chocolate, and a kiss. Given the circumstances, he would have to skip the last one, though it pained him to do so; not in four years had he broken this tradition. But he couldn’t very well kiss Ainsley while he was dating Rhea, even if he was pretending to be his brother.
He pushed the thought from his mind as he skidded into the Entrance Hall. Ainsley was waiting for him at the bottom of the grand staircase, her dark hair loose around her shoulders, the bottom of her blue dress visible under her coat. She blinked in surprise at the flowers in his hand.
“Thank you,” she said graciously as she accepted them. “I wasn’t expecting anything. You even got my favourite colour.”
Lysander rubbed the back of his neck. “Oh, um, yeah… Lysander told me.”
A shy smile crept onto her mouth, half hidden behind the flowers as she raised them to her nose. “I didn’t realize he knew.”
To change the subject, Lysander gestured to the door. “Shall we go?”
Hogsmeade was crowded, to no one’s surprise. Every couple in Hogwarts was contending for their chance at the chocolate broom prize. It seemed even the singles had deemed it worth gathering the courage to ask their crush on a date, something Lysander noted as he winked at Mitch Watford, who was holding hands with Lucy Weasley outside Madam Puddifoot’s. Mitch grinned sheepishly back.
According to plan, Lysander stopped at Honeydukes to pick up the chocolates he’d ordered. A selection of seven that he knew to be her favourites, a letter on each one to spell out her name. Ainsley was delighted, and the way her face lit up when she opened the box was enough to start a fire in his own heart.
Though Lorcan and Rhea could feasibly be anywhere, Lysander still found himself scanning the passing faces as they walked down the main street. There was no screaming, no explosions, no Lorcan standing in the middle of a rapidly parting crowd with a blank look and a “Was it something I said?”
Lysander hoped he had done the right thing.
“You look nervous,” Ainsley remarked, offering him a chocolate.
Lysander laughed shortly, still thinking of Lorcan. “I don’t do this very often.”
They headed toward the river that ran parallel to the main street. It was flowing fast despite the ice that crunched under their feet and surrounded the bank. A few stubborn weeds poked out from the ground. Lysander popped the chocolate into his mouth, the hints of orange and cinnamon melting against his tongue, and instantly warming the rest of him.
“I know,” Ainsley said. “I admit, I’m surprised you let Lysander talk you into it. I just couldn’t stand another Valentine’s Day alone in the castle. I’m glad you asked, of course. But when you were late I did wonder...”
“Yeah, sorry about that,” Lysander said. “I was doing a last minute dragon egg check.”
“Oh, yeah, the eggs.” They stopped at the fence along the bank, the rush of water loud but calming. Ainsley continued, “I shouldn’t have stormed out like that last night. Lysander was so excited. Had that dimple come up in his cheek and everything.”
“Wait, what dimple?”
A flush crept up her neck. “It’s just a little thing I noticed. Whenever he’s really excited about something.”
“Oh,” Lysander said in surprise, raising a hand automatically to his cheek.
“The truth is,” Ainsley said. “I only really said yes to you to make Lysander jealous.”
“Me – I mean, Lysander?”
“I know it sounds stupid, but when he brought me up to tell me about the eggs, I actually thought he was going to ask me out.” She sighed and shook her head.
Lysander tried to process this, but the butterflies in his stomach were distracting. “Why did you want him to organise something with someone else?”
Ainsley shrugged. “He’s with Rhea.”
Lysander turned back to face the river. After a pause, he said, “Maybe Rhea isn’t the right person for him.”
Ainsley eyes flickered in his direction. “Why do you say that?”
He put his hands on the fence; the thin layer of ice quickly went slick against the warmth of his palms. “Well… for starters, she doesn’t show any interest in the things that interest him. It’s always Quidditch, Quidditch, Quidditch, and he’s expected to be excited when that same courtesy is never returned. For another, I don’t think she realizes how much thought goes into the gifts he gives her. I – I mean, he - considers himself to be quite the romantic, and that’s wasted on Rhea.” The words were tumbling out of his mouth now; it was easier to admit to these things out loud when he was pretending to be someone else. “Lysander doesn’t get along with her friends either. They’re all so… loud,” he finished.
Ainsley let out a breath. “Wow. I had no idea he felt that way. Sounds like he’s not happy at all.”
“Yeah…” Lysander said quietly. “I guess he’s not.”
There was another few minutes of silence, with only the rushing of the river to fill it until Ainsley said, “I’m sorry I told you why I said yes. It sounds like I’m just using you.”
Lysander waved a hand. “No big deal.”
“This has actually been really nice,” she said. “You’re not at all as obnoxious as the other girls say. You actually sound just like Lysander sometimes.”
Whoops. He cleared his throat. “We should head back.”
As they climbed the steps of the castle, Ainsley opened her mouth to say something, but what came out was an exclamation as her foot slipped on the thin layer of ice that covered the stairs.
“Watch out!” Lysander caught her as she fell, one hand on her elbow and another around her waist. The full weight of her was in his arms. She looked up at him. Had her eyelashes always been that long? They were so close he could feel the warmth of her breath on his face. There was a freckle at the corner of her mouth…
She quickly righted herself. “Look, Lorcan,” she said. “I have a kind of rule, I guess, on Valentine’s Day.”
“Yeah?” he said cautiously.
Lysander blinked. “But what about last year when you went out with that Henry guy from the year above us in Gryffindor?”
Ainsley raised an eyebrow. “Gee, there really are no secrets between you two is there?” She sighed. “I, er, lied about that.”
“Yeah,” she said as they stepped into the warmth of the Entrance Hall. “Because Lysander had such an amazing time on his date, and then he asked me how mine went, and…” She shrugged. “Man, I sound pathetic.”
Lysander couldn’t decide if he was happy about her tradition or not.
Of course you are, he told himself. She’s your best friend. You just feel hot because you’re still in your coat, and those butterflies in your stomach are actually dragon wings, and – stop looking at her mouth, you fool…
“There you are!” came a threatening voice, made all the more horrible because it was familiar.
Rhea was storming toward them, wearing an expression so thunderous he could almost see smoke rising from her head.
There was smoke rising from her head. She was close enough now that he could smell it: burnt hair.
“What the -?”
Rhea was right in front of him now. A small, shiny burn mark was above her ear, where the hair was singed, and there was a rip in her pink flowery blouse. A ripple of murmurs came from behind them; the other students slowly returning from Hogsmeade.
Oblivious to the gathering crowd, Rhea drew back a hand. Lysander flinched, but before Rhea could come into contact with his face, Lorcan ran in. He grabbed Rhea’s arm, and grinned at Lysander and Ainsley.
“Lysander! I’m so happy to see you. No, I mean… I’m happy to see Lorcan?” Lorcan furrowed his brow.
Rhea yanked her arm from Lorcan’s grip. “I don’t know what you two are playing at, but, Lysander, we are OVER.” She stomped up the Grand Staircase toward Gryffindor tower, smoke trailing behind her. Some of the other students were laughing.
“What the hell did you do?” Lysander hissed to Lorcan.
Ainsley was looking between the two of them like she was watching a Snitch circle their heads. “Wait a minute… What’s going on here?”
“Er… I can explain,” Lysander began.
Lorcan cut across him. “The eggs were cracking just as you left,” he said with half a shrug. “I stayed in our dormitory to watch them, and Rhea came up looking for you – me? Whatever – Man, she can go on and on and on. Anyway, they must have liked the sound of her voice – so high, you know? - and they jumped on her. It was quite funny actually. You should have seen -”
But Lysander pushed past Lorcan before he could finish, and sprinted to the common room, Ainsley right behind him.
Before he could climb the steps to the dormitory, Ainsley grabbed his arm.
“You owe me an explanation.”
Lysander turned to face her, running a hand through his hair. “I’m Lysander. I was pretending to be Lorcan today to save you from the torture of his company.”
She narrowed her eyes, looking him up and down. “Tell me something only Lysander would know.”
“I’ll tell you three,” he said. “When you were eight, you had a doll that waved to you every morning, and that’s how you discovered your magic. You always put potatoes on your plate first at dinner because you want the crispiest ones; I’ve never told you this, but it annoys me because I want the crispy ones. And lastly,” Here he swallowed. “I think you’re beautiful.”
She opened and closed her mouth, but no sound came out. He saved her the trouble.
“You want to see some dragon babies or not?”
Still silent, she nodded, and followed him into the dormitory. Together, they knelt by the wardrobe.
“They weren’t supposed to hatch for another few days,” Lysander said, almost to himself. He pulled out a set of keys, they jangled loudly as he sorted through them.
“What are the keys for?” Ainsley asked. “Can’t you just unlock it with your wand?”
“Then anyone could get in,” Lysander said.
“Isn’t this dangerous?”
“Nah. Their baby teeth are rounded; hard, but not sharp. And this particular species doesn’t breathe fire until it reaches adolescence. They only spark a bit... As you saw.” His mouth quirked.
Finally, with the right key in the lock, Lysander pulled back the lid of the case.
Ainsley let out a quiet, “Oh.”
The dragons were sleeping. Two of them, curled up together with each one’s tail in the other’s mouth. As they watched, one gave a little purr and snuggled deeper against the other.
Lysander and Ainsley didn’t speak for a long time. They just sat there, watching the tiny bellies of the dragons rise and fall, Lysander hyper aware of Ainsley’s leg against his. It didn't matter that Lorcan had probably ruined their chances. He didn't need a competition to feel like a winner. Unable to stop the broad smile that was glued to his face, he turned to her.
“Well,” he said, “has that dimple come up on my cheek yet?”
She glanced at him shyly. “Yes, but…”
“What is it?”
“It’s been there all day.”
Lysander chuckled softly, and gently closed the case. He turned to face her. “I know you said you only have one rule on Valentine’s, but…”
She smiled, and it was full of promise.
“Can I kiss you?”
“Yes,” she whispered.
And though a hint of chocolate still lingered on her lips, it definitely wasn’t the sweetest thing he was tasting.