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.