To be honest I haven't been nervous about a first date in years. After a decade of relationships that never went anywhere, I stopped expecting my relationships to go anywhere and that does wonders for the nerves. My philosophy was if it doesn't work out, there will always be someone else waiting at the pub. That's probably pathetic, but what do you expect?
And that was why I was so surprised when I woke up Saturday more nervous than I'd been when I took my N.E.W.T.s. Friday night I went to the pub with Albus, but Matt hadn't been there. It had been a family affair, although we hadn't exactly planned it that way. I restricted myself to just a few drinks so that I wouldn't wake up with a hangover, and now that I'd awoken riddled with nerves, I was extra thankful of that choice.
Since Matt wasn't picking me up until six I had a full five hours to kill. I thought about going round Hugo's and seeing what he was up to, but I really had no desire to subject myself to his massive brood of children. You'd think that since I'm 29 I'd be wanting children of my own but I really had no desire. Very few of my cousins' children behaved themselves and the whole prospect of being in charge of someone else was daunting. Sir Thumbs was one thing, but a baby? Nope, all I wanted was a serious relationship where my boyfriend didn't pretend to be his brother.
Thankfully, Matt didn't have any brothers. Perhaps I should make that a new requirement for all future boyfriends.
I spent the afternoon rearranging my bookshelves because it relaxed me and because it was quiet, unlike an afternoon at Hugo's. I arranged them by color, which I'd always wanted to do. It would make it difficult to locate titles I wanted, but it certainly was pretty.
At four I began preparing for my date with Matt. This included shaving my legs, which I hadn't done since Sean and I were together. I never managed to get the hang of the hair removal charm, so I had to do it the old-fashioned way, with a razor and shaving cream.
At five-thirty I was ready and waiting, dressed somewhat modestly in a little black dress. Of course, said dress was covered in cat hair, but I'd long since given up on trying to keep cat hair off my clothes. Now it was an accessory.
Matt knocked on my door at exactly six o'clock. Very punctual. Unlike Sean. That probably should have been a warning sign about Sean, but I always assumed it was because he was a healer and healers are never on time. But no, he was just an arse.
“Hi,” I said somewhat breathlessly after I opened the door. Matt was holding a bouquet of lilies. Every single guy I'd ever gone on a date with has brought me lilies. It got old when I was still at Hogwarts, but I wouldn't hold it against him.
“Hi,” Matt answered, handing me the lilies. “These are for you.”
“Thanks,” I said. “I'll just put them inside.”
Matt nodded. “So this is the famous flat with no water?”
I laughed as I led him inside. “Yes. It's got water now, though.”
“Good,” Matt said as I grabbed a vase, filled it with water, and stuck the lilies inside.
“Ready?” I asked, setting the flowers on the counter.
“Ready,” Matt said.
“So, are you going to tell me where we're going?” I asked as we left my building.
“Nope,” Matt said. “It's a surprise. But Dillan really likes this place, so I promise it's good.”
“I'm not picky,” I assured him, but it was a lie. I really was picky, but I didn't like to admit that on first dates, because I'm picky like a kid when it comes to food and that's kind of weird.
“It wouldn't matter if you were. This place has everything. It's close enough that we can walk.”
Matt and I walked through Diagon Alley until we reached the Leaky Cauldron and then entered Muggle London. The streets were crowded and loud so we didn't talk, but it wasn't awkward or anything. Ten minutes later Matt stopped in front of a restaurant with a red awning over its door.
“The Lion's Den?” I asked, reading the sign.
Matt grinned. “Dillan thought it was a good pick for two Gryffindors.”
“Weird name for a restaurant,” I said as we walked inside.
“It's London,” Matt replied. “There are weirder.”
We joined a short queue of people waiting for tables, but didn't have to wait long since Matt had called in a reservation. A few couples who hadn't called ahead gave us death glares as we walked by to be seated before them.
The waiter showed us to our seats and I noticed they only gave you one of each variety of utensil, which meant it was a good restaurant in my book. I wasn't a huge fan of fancy restaurants, and the fancier the restaurant the more silverware they gave you.
“Can I get you anything to drink?” the waiter asked after Matt pulled out my chair for me, waited until I sat, and then sat himself. Score one. I couldn't remember the last time a bloke did that for me.
I glanced at Matt. “Up to you,” he said.
I shouldn't, I thought. But what the hell, it's a date, right? “White wine?”
“We'll take a bottle,” Matt said. “Pino grigio. Thank you.”
I was impressed. He knew wine. As far as I knew neither Al or any of his other friends knew the difference between a cabernet and a merlot.
“So,” Matt said, taking his napkin and placing it on his lap. “How was your day?”
I was momentarily distracted by his good manners. James still didn't put his napkin on his lap unless prompted by Mum. I then realized that I hadn't put my own napkin on my lap and hastily did so, blushing a bit. Okay, so the bad manners weren't only a James and Al thing.
Matt clearly noticed my blushing and laughed. That only made me blush more.
“Sorry,” he said. “It's really not a fancy place, but my grandmother drilled the napkin on the lap thing into my head. I also know which fork to use for what, not that they give you more than one here.”
Wow, I thought. Impressive. “My grandmother always considers herself lucky that my cousins and I don't prank each other at the dinner table.”
Matt let out another laugh. “Pranks at the table? That would've given my grandmother a heart attack. She never tolerated anything but the best manners from my sister and I. Amy hated it when we were kids. I always just did what Cinda asked because it was easier than complaining about it.”
“Cinda?” I asked, confused.
“Oh, my grandmother,” Matt explained. “She didn't like being called 'grandma' because she said it made her feel old.”
“My nana Molly always insists we call her Nana Molly,” I said. “Your grandmother certainly sounds interesting.”
“She was,” Matt said. “She died a few years ago.”
“I'm sorry,” I said, feeling slightly awkward.
Matt brushed it off. “It's okay. Your nana Molly is wonderful. Such a great cook.”
Right, I thought. I kept forgetting Matt pretty much knew my entire family through Al. That meant we could really skip the whole “getting to know you” set of questions.
“I don't know how she does it,” I said. “I can't even count how many cousins I've got now that they're all getting married and having kids.”
“I don't have any cousins,” Matt replied.
My jaw dropped. “None?”
“A few distant cousins.” Matt shrugged. “But I never see them because my dad had a huge falling out with them when I was a kid.”
“I can't even imagine,” I said. “You're free to borrow any of mine. I've got too many.”
The wine arrived and we were quiet while the waiter poured us each a glass. I took a small sip of mine, determined not to drink too much of it, especially before I ate anything. We'd neglected to look at the menu while waiting for our drinks to arrive, so we took another few minutes to decide what to order and ordered when the waiter returned.
“Weird assortment of food here,” I said after the waiter left. I'd ordered lasagne. Matt had ordered chicken souvlaki.
Matt nodded. “Dillan swears by it.”
“Well, he'd know.”
“I still can't believe you haven't got any cousins.” It really was mind-boggling to me. “Are your parents only children?”
“My mum is,” Matt said. “My dad has one brother, my uncle Jack, but he never got married and never had any kids. I'm used to it, though. I still remember going to your nana Molly's for Albus and Rose's twelfth birthday party. I don't think I've ever been so overwhelmed.”
I laughed. “I hardly even remember that. The big, chaotic birthday parties and Christmas and whatnot are just normal to me.”
“My grandparents had fancy dinner parties and events, but they were always so subdued, with everyone on their best behavior. A lot of people came to them, but it didn't seem that way because everyone was so calm.”
“Pretty much the opposite of a Weasley gathering. You ought to come to a Weasley wedding sometime. You wouldn't know what hit you.” I felt my cheeks redden again. Had I just accidentally invited him to the next Weasley wedding?
Luckily he didn't seem to notice or wasn't fazed. “Yet the Weasleys I know best don't seem to be getting married.”
“You mean Rose?” I replied, laughing. “She's so focused on her career I doubt she'll ever get married.”
“That's what my parents always thought about Amy,” Matt said. “Now look at her. Married with a baby. I can almost see Cinda rolling over in her grave in shock.”
“She didn't think Amy would ever marry?”
“No. She wanted her to. She always felt Amy was too focused on work. Sadly she died when Amy and Dillan were just getting to know each other.”
I nodded. I knew of Matt's sister, through Rose, but didn't know her personally. She created some sort of revolutionary potion a few years back, but I couldn't remember the name of it.
“Do you think Albus and Becca will ever get married?” I asked.
Matt laughed. “Maybe if they ever decide to stop traveling the world for work. They only see each other a few days out of every month.”
If I ever had a relationship like that it would take me years to figure out the bloke's fatal flaw, I thought. Good thing Albus and Becca were trusting and normal.
“My mum would be ecstatic,” I said. “She's given up on James.”
The food arrived, giving us a break from conversation, but I was surprised again by how easy it was to talk to Matt. We hadn't had a single awkward pause since we arrived at the restaurant, despite the fact that we didn't need to ask the usual questions about our work, families, etc. Maybe it was working so well because we already sort of knew each other.
My lasagne was amazing. Not quite as good as Nana Molly's, but still amazing. I somehow managed not to spill it all over myself, which must've been some sort of miracle. Matt's chicken souvlaki also looked good, although if I had gotten it the pita would've fallen apart and I'd have had tzatziki sauce all over myself.
“So how is the evil cat?” Matt asked after the waiter took our empty plates.
“Evil,” I answered, laughing. “This morning he woke me up by smacking me in the face because he wanted breakfast.”
“At least it didn't leave a mark,” Matt pointed out.
“He only breaks out the claws if I don't wake up the first time,” I said. “Good thing I'm a light sleeper.”
“I'd be screwed,” Matt said. “I can sleep through anything.”
“Anything. The amount of times Albus had to spend ten minutes waking me up for class at Hogwarts...”
“James can sleep through anything.”
“Can I interest you in dessert?” the waiter asked, holding two dessert menus.
“Lily?” Matt said.
“Sure.” I was never one to turn down dessert.
“Our special tonight is a chocolate lava cake.”
It was all I could to to stop my jaw from dropping, but when I noticed Matt's eyes bug out I couldn't help but laugh a little. Clearly a love of chocolate was another thing we had in common.
“We'll have that,” Matt said.
“Very good. I'll be back with it shortly.”
“Chocolate is the closest Muggles have to magic,” Matt said after the waiter left. He poured us each another glass of wine, finishing off the bottle.
“I completely agree,” I said, taking a sip of wine.
“So, what made you decide to work for your cousin Bradley?” Matt asked. “I've been curious ever since you mentioned it. It must be pretty different from working at a bookshop.”
I took another long sip of wine to put off answering. I wasn't exactly proud of how I managed to get the job with Bradley. “It's not a very good story,” I said, sighing.
“Oh, come on,” Matt said, grinning slightly. “It can't be as embarrassing as how I got my job.”
“I'll tell you if you tell me about yours, then.”
Matt cringed ever so slightly and I almost thought I'd be off the hook. “All right, fine,” he said.
I groaned inwardly. “To be honest, I sort of got pushed into it. After the bookshop closed I moved back in with my parents for a few months. How awful is that? I was 24 and moving back home. Not that I was the first of my cousins to do it, but even James managed to support himself, although none of us are sure how.”
“That's not that bad,” Matt said.
“Oh, yours is worse, then?”
“Just finish yours.”
“All of my aunts and uncles and cousins had opinions on what I should do,” I continued. “Rose thought I should go back to school and become a healer. Uncle George wanted me to work for him. Gabriella wanted me to join her in Paris. Mum thought I ought to intern at the Prophet. But none of that sounded goo,d and the problem was nothing sounded good. I had no idea what I wanted to do. So I sat around the house for months. I helped Victoire with her kids quite a bit, but all that made me realize was that I never wanted to be a nanny and made me question my desire to ever have children-”
“Henri and Remus will do that to you,” Matt said, laughing. “Sophie on the other hand-”
“A complete angel,” I finished.
“I'm her godfather. Did you know that?”
“Really?” I asked. I guess I never thought about who Victoire and Teddy picked for Sophie's godparents.
Matt nodded. “And my sister is her godmother.”
“That makes sense,” I said. “I never knew you were that close with them. Sorry, that sounded bad.”
“Don't worry about it. Victoire was one of Amy's only friends after we moved here, so our families became pretty close. But I'm getting off-topic. Finish your story.”
“Okay. Anyway, my parents got sick of me bumming around the house and not doing anything so they casually mentioned that Bradley was looking for a new receptionist. I think they thought I'd never go for it because I refused to work for Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes. I think now they wish I hadn't gone for it. But maybe they thought it would tide me over for a few months or whatever.”
“Still waiting for the bad part,” Matt said.
I sighed. “I'm getting there. I guess Bradley had been looking for a new receptionist for a while and had actually interviewed a few people and had something nearly set up. But then my dad asked him if he'd hire me instead and he did.”
Matt laughed. “So you kicked someone else out of their job?”
My cheeks burned. “Yeah, that's exactly what I did. And that's why it's so bad.”
“But do you like it? That's what matters.”
“I do. I get to help with cases and that's always fun.”
“Then don't worry about the other person,” Matt said. “I'm sure they found another job.”
“She actually went to healer school a few months later, so she would've quit anyway.”
“There you go.”
The waiter returned with the chocolate lava cake, which was huge. He gave us two forks and left. Matt and I met each other's gaze and grinned, before digging in. It was wonderful. Chocolatey and creamy and amazing. It melted in your mouth like hot lava, which is probably where it got its name, although I supposed real lava would just burn you up rather than melt in your mouth.
“Your turn,” I said to Matt, after swallowing. “I'm not letting you off the hook just because dessert arrived.”
“But it's so good,” Matt said, scooping out a huge bite and shoving it into his mouth.
I pulled the plate toward me so that he couldn't reach it. “No more until you talk.”
He swallowed. “Fine. Okay, so I didn't know what I wanted to do after Hogwarts. You at least got a job right away, even if the place did close later on. Albus already knew what he wanted to do and went into training or whatever it was that he needed to do to do whatever it is that he does-”
“Albus had the most confusing job ever.”
“That's for sure. But he wanted to get a flat with John and I. John got a job two months after we graduated, so that's when we got the flat. But I still didn't have a job.”
“How did that work?” I asked, taking another bite of cake.
Matt sighed. “That's the embarrassing part. My parents sort of paid for it.”
I shrugged. “That's not that bad. My parents have helped me out when I've been short on rent.”
“No, they paid for all of it. They had an account for me-”
“Like a trust fund?” I asked.
Matt turned red. “Not exactly. Sort of. I don't know what you'd call it, but the point is, they paid for my third of the rent for a year.”
“A year?” I repeated. I didn't want to sound shocked, but I was. I mean, at least he had a job now, which was more than could be said for about half my boyfriends, but still.
“It wasn't that I wasn't trying. I was. No one would hire me.”
Matt averted his gaze back to the cake and I slid it back into the middle. I'd let him suffer long enough. He took another few bites before answering.
“I don't know. My dad kept offering me a position in his department, and they did need to replace someone who just retired, but I didn't want to take it. It was bad enough he and Mum were paying my rent. After a year it just got ridiculous and I took him up on the offer. By then Kaden had graduated and John moved out to get a flat with him. If there were four of us in the place Al and I have would've gone insane.”
“Wow,” I said. “Not sure whose story is worse.”
“Let's call it even,” Matt said, scooping up the second to last bite of cake.
I nodded and ate the last bite. I wasn't the type of person to debate over who got the last bite of cake. If it was there, I took it.
We finished off the last of the wine while waiting for the waiter to take the check. It was amazing how comfortable I'd been with Matt. We hit it off so quickly and there hadn't been a single awkward moment.
I was feeling slightly tipsy as we walked back to Diagon Alley, but not so bad I was afraid I'd do something stupid. I couldn't do anything stupid. Not with Matt. With any other bloke I could just forget about it and never see them again, but Matt was Al's best friend. I had to take things slow and not get in over my head.
“I'll walk you to your door and make sure you've got water,” Matt said with a laugh when we reached my building.
I smiled. “Okay.” Should I invite him in? Would it look bad if I didn't? But if I did things would surely move too fast. I'd had a good bit of wine and that wasn't a good mix with a new bloke in my flat.
We walked quietly up the stairs and down the corridor to my door. There was no note on it.
“Looks like you're good,” Matt said.
“You aren't going to let me live that down, are you?”
“You coming to me like a damsel in distress, needing someone to watch your evil cat?” Matt asked. “No, never.”
I grinned, mostly because that meant he wanted to see me again.
“I had a lot of fun tonight, Lily,” Matt said, stepping closer.
“Me, too,” I said. I leaned in and kissed him.
This time he kissed me back. He kissed softly. Not hesitantly, just gentle. When we pulled apart I felt warm all over, like nothing was wrong in the world.
“When will I see you again?” I asked.
“Friday?” Matt suggested.
“I don't know if I want to wait that long,” I said, kissing him again.
“I have a report due at work on Friday,” Matt explained. “I'll be at the Ministry late every night this week.”
“Okay,” I said. I didn't want to seem needy. “Until Friday, then.”
I unlocked my door and instinctively held out my leg to block Sir Thumbs from escaping. Matt laughed and gave a small wave as he turned and walked down the corridor.
I shoved Sir Thumbs out of the way and closed the door quietly. I leaned against the back of the door after doing so and smiled. It had been the most perfect date I'd ever been on. Blokes I normally dated just didn't act like that; they didn't have manners or chivalry and didn't make me laugh nearly as much. Matt was a keeper. I knew it already. A/N: I didn't plan on this being the chapter I'd put up on Valentine's Day, but it certainly is a nice coincidence! Thanks for all the lovely reviews!