Lily Evans sighed, brushing pine needles out of her hair. She was half-covered in sticky sap and smelled fiercely of evergreens. Her hands were sore from tying wreath after wreath, and not for the first time she wished there was some magical way to make things go faster. It wasn’t like this job paid all that well, either. Your shift’s over in ten minutes, she consoled herself. Probably there won’t even be more customers.
Just then, the door chimed, and someone entered the shop, stooping a little to avoid the low lintel. He ran a hand through a spiky black mop of hair, an uncertain look on his face. “Um, I’d like to buy a wreath?”
“That’s what we sell here,” Lily said, chuckling tiredly.
“I know. Sorry. I’m a bit distracted.”
“That’s okay. Any particular kind you want?”
“No. I don’t think so. It’s for my mum. She’s gone slightly mad with the decorating.”
“I understand,” Lily replied. “Mine’s the same.” She picked a small one with holly woven in from the wall behind the counter, and briskly ran the transaction through.
He paid and left, looking back for a moment as he went through the door, and she smiled. Time to go home.
The next day, around the middle of her shift, the boy—mostly a man, really—came in again.
“More decorating?” Lily asked.
“Yeah. Kind of a drag.”
“Pick one out, then. Sorry about your mum,” she said impishly.
He looked up in surprise. “What? Oh, yeah. The decorating. I’ll deal.” He paid hurriedly and walked quickly out. He hit his head slightly on the lintel and cursed under his breath.
Lily watched out the small window of the door as he joined a small group of other young men and his demeanor immediately changed. He looped the wreath over the head of a short, chubby boy, casually ruffling his hair, and exchanged a complicated handshake with a tall, black-haired person. They walked off in a clump, and through the door she heard faint, slightly mocking laughter.
An hour later he was back, the wreath—slightly crumpled—in his hand. “This isn’t the right one.”
“Not the right one?” Lily was incredulous. “I’m not sure we’ve ever had someone return a wreath before.”
“Well. I don’t have to return it.”
“No, it’s okay,” she said, laughing.
His face had taken on a faint red color. “No, I’ll buy one. That’s ok,” he said hurriedly. He picked out another wreath quickly, seemingly with no particular criteria, and paid for it in such a rush that Lily asked if he was late for something.
“No, no. I’m not.” His shoulders slumped.
Lily felt bad for him. “Is everything alright?”
He looked down at her sadly—he was taller than her by a good six inches. “Sort of.”
“Do you want to talk about it? I’m Lily, by the way.”
He cracked a smile. “Yeah, it’s on your nametag.”
Lily chuckled in spite of herself. “So it is.”
The boy turned to leave, but looked slowly and sadly over his shoulder just before he opened the door. “I’m James, by the way. James Potter.”
“It’s nice to meet you, James Potter,” she said, and smiled. When she went home that evening, the look he’d given her as he left lingered in her mind. If Lily hadn’t known better, she would’ve sworn that long, sad look was one of longing.
The next day was December 23rd, the day before Christmas Eve, and Lily was kept busy all day. By the time James walked into the shop, as she’d expected he would, she looked a mess, her dark red hair pulled back in a messy bun and pine sap coating her hands once again. This visit was different; James strode through the door almost purposefully, retaining a hint of the cockiness Lily had glimpsed when he was outside the shop.
She looked up from her work, flashing her brightest smile. “Back for more wreaths?”
“Um, no,” James said, looking a bit queasy.
“Garlands, then?” Lily asked, teasing.
“No.” He took a deep breath. “Doyouwanmgotwme.”
“Do you. Want to. Go out with me. Lily,” James pronounced. “Please,” he added. “I didn’t mean to sound rude.”
She smiled slowly, enjoying his squirming for a moment. I’m sure such an attractive bloke can afford to squirm a little. “Yes. I’d love to.”
He grinned, a wide, confident smile that made her heart flutter. “I’m—genuinely so glad. Thank you.”
“Don’t thank me yet, Potter. You’ve yet to get to know me.”
He nodded slowly, a cocky grin spreading across his face. “Yeah, but I think I’m really going to enjoy the process.”