“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.