Disclaimer: I own nothing related to Harry Potter. I just worship JKR, the creator.

Let the Cat Out of the Bag

"Do you hear something?" James raised his arm and halted his steps. Three boys stopped in a single file line behind him, holding their breaths and peering through the snow-laden trees along the edge of the narrow forest path. There it was again.

"Holdsworth!" It was a girl's voice, and not far away. "Holdsworth! Where are you?"

Scowling, James glanced at his friends. They each wore expressions much like his own, filled with confusion and, of course, indignation. Girls did not belong in the Forbidden Forest. End of discussion. James lifted his hand again and gave the signal to spread out; the boys filtered into the trees.

After two and a half years at Hogwarts, thirteen-year-old James Potter considered himself something of an expert on the Forbidden Forest. He and his friends, Sirius, Remus, and Peter, had wound their way through the Forest's dark interiors on more occasions than they could begin to count. Among all of the weird and mysterious creatures they had encountered within, never once had they run across a single girl.

"Holdsworth! Come out, please. Where are you, Holdsworth?"

James inched around an ice covered boulder and the girl, standing in the center of a small clearing, came into view. It was Lily Evans, his Gryffindor housemate, and tears were streaming down her face. She was bundled up in a winter cloak and held the hood close around her head.

He stood and watched her, strange and beautiful, as she tipped her chin to examine the topmost branches of the trees while wisps of loose red hair fluttered over her cheeks in the cold wind. She jumped at the sound of a cracking branch and looked behind her. James could see Sirius crouched across from him, on the other side of the clearing. The others would be nearby.

"Holdsworth…" Lily's call was not more than a whimper.

James chirruped low in his throat - the agreed upon signal - the boys would remain hidden until he called for them to reveal themselves. Straightening up and adjusting his shoulder bag against his hip, he stepped around the boulder into Lily's line of vision. Her mouth dropped open at the sight of him.

"Are you lost?" James asked her, although he thought the answer somewhat obvious.

"I don't know," Lily replied. "I'm looking for Holdsworth." James frowned, but Lily didn't stop to clarify herself. "He got in another fight with that big bully, Alice's toad." She wrung her hands and looked back into the treetops. "I just knew this was going to happen. You have no idea how long I've been waiting for that stupid toad to go too far, and now he has. Holdsworth ran off and I can't find him anywhere."

He just had to ask, "Who is Holdsworth?"

"My cat." She held up her hands close together. "He's very small and brown with a puff of white fur under his chin." She tapped her neck with her gloved finger.

James grinned and glanced sideways into the red bush where Remus stood, hidden. He rubbed the back of his head and scanned the edge of the clearing until he noticed Peter balanced on a low tree branch. James felt the tingle of excitement in his toes. He was nothing like an audience for a little bit of fun.

"White fur under his chin, you say?" James tapped his neck, mimicking Lily's gesture, and then held his fingers up against the sides of his head. "Does he have two pointed ears?" She nodded. "And two curled tails?"

Lily frowned. "He hasn't any tail at all. But he's got two white paws."

Stroking his chin, James began to pace in a circle around Lily. "No tail at all? Hmm. And white paws? Is it likely he could have run down a rabbit hole?"

"Oh, no! Holdsworth is terrified of rabbits…and of the dark"

"A cat afraid of the dark, eh? How unusual." James stopped pacing and pushed his glasses up on his nose. "Are you quite sure he has two white paws?"


"That's too bad, because for a minute there I thought this might be yours." James reached into his shoulder bag and lifted out a small, quivering lump of very muddy brown fur with a dirty white puff under its chin. He'd known it was her cat all along.

Quite without warning, Lily threw both arms about James' neck and planted her lips full against his. Her face was cold, but the spirited warmth of her embrace more than made up for it. Holdsworth mewed, unhappy at being squashed between them. As taken aback as he was, James found himself sorry when Lily released him and turned her attention towards her cat. He was sorry, that is, until his friends began to bellow with laughter from the bushes. Then he was mortified.

Lily clutched Holdsworth against her chest and backed away from James, glancing about at the boys emerging from the trees. A gorgeous shade of red lit up her entire face, all the way to her ears, but her eyes turned dark as she looked back at James. "You prat! You did that on purpose."

"I didn't do anything." James felt the heat creeping into his own ears. He wished his moron friends would have kept their mouths shut.

"You did. You wanted to make a spectacle of me in front of your little friends so you could get a laugh."

James opened his mouth to argue, but he couldn't. She was right. And she knew it, too. Lily turned on her heels and stomped off into the forest, kicking a path in the powdery snow before her. To make matters worse, she was walking in the wrong direction.

Sighing, and amid gales of laughter from his friends, James trudged after her. Somehow he knew, no matter how long he lived, it was going to be tougher than a dragon's hide to live this one down.

Author's Note: I hope you liked this little one-shot. It was based on a challenge from my beta, MrsPadfoot. Please let me know if you like it. Is it a plausible start for Lily and James' relationship?