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Chapter 3 : Peony
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Disclaimer: Any characters or locations you recognise still belong to JK Rowling.
“I am a peony blooming with open wounds, / I drink shallowly from your vase.” Unknown translation
The third flower that James Potter gave to Lily Evans was a blood red peony. The flower was meant as a victory gift for his first match as an official member of the Gryffindor Quidditch team. However, as it often happens in life, his plan did not go exactly as intended.
It was late autumn and the view from the windows of the Gryffindor tower was breathtaking. The fallen leaves from the trees were carried by the autumn breeze in a whirlwind of exploding colours – molten golds, coffee browns and just a touch of enticing reds. But James Potter was not in the mood for appreciating such picturesque moments. The first Quidditch match of the year was upon him and he was fidgeting nervously in his room. He tried every known method to calm his nerves – he even tried stealing a Calming draught from the Hospital wing (that didn’t go well) but nothing seemed to work. Everyone around was telling him left and right that he was brilliant. Instead of helping him, this made him, if possible, even more nervous. What if he played horribly? If he didn’t score a single point? They were going to be so disappointed in him.
It was in a moment of complete and utter desperation when James thought of something that every sports player on Earth, be it wizard or Muggle, eventually embraces. He needed a good luck charm for the match. He needed to find some constant in his life that seemed to get him on the favourable side of destiny. James frowned. His thoughts drifted to recent events – what was the common factor? Not the slightest idea... and then – ‘Lily!’. Every time he saw the red-haired wonder, good things seemed to happen to him (apart from being on the receiving end of her hexes). He was inspired for new pranks, he did better in class (he didn’t take in account that the reason for this was probably to impress her) and life as a whole seemed a little bit brighter. And it was a perfect situation – Evans, albeit not a big fan of Quidditch, was a fierce supporter of Gryffindor and was always at the matches. She was going to be his lucky charm! And he - just like a valiant knight after a tournament was going to present her with a flower as a token of his victory after the match. Now... where to find a flower?
As the sun slowly set behind the trees of the Forbidden Forest, James took out his invisibility cloak and prepared to go on a search for a flower in the Greenhouses. He silently hoped that he could find something there that was not murderously inclined (like most of the plants that Professor Sprout kept). Night fell and he made it out of the castle carefully avoiding prefect patrols. When he reached the Greenhouses, he slipped off the invisibility cloak and began looking around for a suitable flower. Sleeping mandrakes, bubotubers, dittany, puffapods... maybe this was not a good idea after all. What was he thinking when he decided that the greenhouse was a good place to find a pretty flower? He had been in all Herbology classes (ok, maybe not all of them) and not one time had they dealt with a plant that was not out get you. Or maybe... in the corner of his eye, James spotted a bed of bright red flowers. On closer inspection, he concluded that they were poppies – perfect! A red flower for his Gryffindor-red, red-haired lucky charm! Just as James was about to pluck a poppy, he heard a voice from behind that made him jump and almost turn over a flower pot.
“Mister Potter, what are you doing out of the castle, in my Greenhouse after curfew?” the voice of Professor Sprout echoed.
Oh well, wasn’t life just cruel. “I am... uhm...”
There were those time that lies were the way to go. And yet, there were also these rare moments when the truth was better. Professor Sprout was one of the kindest teachers in Hogwarts and she probably wouldn’t be so mad... probably.
“I have this match tomorrow, and... I couldn’t sleep and... I decided to get a flower for this girl...”
Professor Sprout’s frown disappeared and was replaced with a conspiratorial smile.
“Lily Evans, the Gryffindor?” James muttered.
“Ooh... but of course. Such a nice girl, always polite and so smart. A bit too fond of throwing hexes at you though, don’t you think?” she winked at him. “But why would you want to give her poppies?”
“Well... they were the only thing around here that wouldn’t attack Lily, if you get what I mean.” chuckled James nervously. “And they are Gryffindor’s colour.”
The frown on the witch’s face returned. “No, no, no. Poppies are an absolutely bad idea for a special gift for a girl. They are used in sleep-inducing Potions and in many cultures symbolize sleep and death. I actually was keeping those for Horace, he’ll need them for the fifth years.”
“I wasn’t aware of that. Not the best gift then.” James concluded.
“But you know, you are such a sweet boy – trying to find a perfect flower for your special girl. Coincidentally, I have just the right thing for you. Wait here.”
Professor Sprout disappeared in a small compartment of the greenhouse that James had never been in before. He suspected that it was her personal garden. A few minutes passed and when the elderly witch came back she had another red flower in her hand.
“This is a peony. I know for a fact that girls love them and they are also said to bring luck.” she handed the flower to him.
James on the other hand could not believe his own luck at the moment. Life had turned its kinder side towards him. “Thank you, Professor. I really appreciate this.”
“Now go,” she said with a grin. “We don’t want anyone else seeing you out after curfew, do we?”
James was at the door of the greenhouse when he heard Professor Sprout call him one more time.
“And Potter – don’t forget, Monday 8 o’clock in the evening – detention in the greenhouses. I think you need to learn a bit more about the fine art of Herbology.”
Despite James’ newfound confidence in himself, the match did not go that well. While he managed to score some spectacular goals against the Slytherin team, halfway through the game he was viciously hit by both Bludgers. He woke up lying in a bed in the Hospital Wing with Sirius at his side.
“Hey mate, are you alright?” Sirius asked cautiously.
“I was hit by a Bludger, do you think I am alright?” retorted James.
“Actually, my dear Jamesy, you were hit by two Bludgers. The Slytherin beaters noticed how good you are and, of course, they played dirty, the sneaky gits.”
Suddenly, James remembered. “What happened? Did we lose?”
“No need to be so glum, Gryffindor won.” Sirius started. “You’ve got a good seeker this year, managed to get the Snitch before the goal difference became too big.”
James significantly brightened after hearing that they had won. Still, Sirius could see some... disappointment on his friend’s face.
“Why the gloom, James? You won, you were brilliant on that broom and I know that you don’t care that much for a broken bone or two.”
There was a long pause during which James seemed to weigh his options. “You’ll laugh if I tell you.”
Of course, after hearing James’ explanation of the flower that he wanted to give after the match to Lily, Sirius erupted into hysterical laughter.
“Thanks, Sirius. I knew I could count on your support.” James pouted.
“But... but...” Sirius had trouble stopping his laughter. “Ok, I am stopping now. But really, how could you think of that Evans girl being your lucky charm? She is always with Snivellus.”
“Doesn’t matter now,” James sighed. “She wasn’t my lucky charm. Look what happened to me.”
“Are you serious?” Sirius snickered at his favourite (grossly overused) pun.”I mean, although I think you are completely bonkers of thinking of that in the first place, but Lily really was your lucky charm. You won, you were great, and you know what else? If you hadn’t turned around to take a look at Lily (yes, I noticed) at that exact moment , you wouldn’t have seen Avery’s bludger which was aimed for your head. You could have been dead now, or injured much worse, so yeah... Lily is indeed your lucky charm.”
James looked at him incredulously. Sometimes, rarely, his friend could still surprise him. He knew that Sirius wasn’t on the friendliest of terms with Lily, but he put aside his doubts for her to cheer him up. Sirius was really one of a kind.
“Tell you what, James. The flower is on your bed stand, right? I’ll go get it and I’ll give it to Evans when I see her. It’d be a wasted opportunity and you are not going out of the Hospital Wing for a few days.”
Later that night, James was lying awake in his bed, thinking. These days have been quite eventful. He got caught in the greenhouse, but he got in return the perfect flower for Lily. He was hit by bludgers, but he flew marvelously. He couldn’t give the peony to Lily, but he had the best friend in the world to do that for him. ‘Truly,’ he thought. ‘Life is cruel and life is kind.’
The next day, Sirius caught Lily in the corridor before their Potions class.
“Evans, can I have a word with you.” he asked.
“What do you want, Black” she snapped at him.
“No need to take out the claws, I come in peace. James asked me to give you this flower as a Gryffindor victory gift.” he handed the peony to her.
“I don’t want Potter’s flowers, thank you.”
“Look, doll,” Sirius took her hand and put forcefully the peony in it. “He asked me and I am doing it. I don’t care what you do with it. Just take it.”
Before Lily had a chance to retort, Sirius was already storming down the corridor.
She looked distastefully at the object in her hand. ‘Such arrogance,’ she thought. ‘Potter continuously mocks my red hair, he hexes Severus at every turn and he thinks that a won match and a flower are going to change my opinion about him?’
Lily examined the flower. It was a peony, no doubt. A bright red flower that her grandmother kept in her backyard to make medicine from its roots. ‘Wait a second, medicine? I need one more plant uncommon to be used by wizards for my Potion’s essay on healing elixirs! How didn’t I think of that before?’ She took out her parchment from her bag and scribbled on it furiously. Finally finished, the perfect O-worthy essay.
Who knew that James Potter was her lucky charm?
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