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Chapter 4: Problem #4
Disclaimer: Anything recognizable belongs to JK Rowling.
And the winds will change
Straighten out your track
When you least expect it
It'll come right back
And you are all alone
The Winds by Jessie Baylin
"Potter! Cover me! I'm going for it!" I shouted
“Got it!” He shouted in response, dodging a hex and shooting another to counter it towards the attacker.
I ran towards the target, intent on returning back to my team successful. We were thirty minutes into our Wednesday training session, in which we practiced for basic field work, such as securing a target in a field of aggressive defense men. James and I were on the same practice team, and had agreed to have each other’s backs during these sorts of things. We seemed to work well together and were sufficiently improving as a team, and as proof, I hadn’t been hexed once today, while on the first day of field training, I had been hit with at least six stinging jinxes. It had not been pretty.
I sprinted across the field, hexes colliding behind my back as I grew closer to the old shoe that was posing as the day’s target item. I snatched it, ducking and rolling to avoid a curse that narrowly missed my arm, instead brushing against my shoulder, ripping my blazer. Damn. Now I needed to bribe my neighbor to sew it up. Again.
I got up and sprinted back to James and the other five people on my team, screaming with excitement, as it had taken us thirty two minutes and fifteen seconds to complete the challenge, beating our previous record by seventeen minutes.
James clapped me on the back as my team surrounded me, showering me with praise. I smiled; glad to have finally been the one to come back with the trophy. It was usually one of the older trainees, or the more experienced ones who brought it back.
“Nice work Lex.” James smirked at me.
“Thanks.” I grinned back.
“I reckon we’re getting better at this teamwork thing.” He reckoned.
“Yeah it’ll come in handy for the retreat this weekend.” I said. “Rumour has it that we’re partners for some of the teamwork exercises.”
Alright, let me explain. This weekend, we have a department retreat that happens once a year. Everyone in the department besides those needed for emergencies (and those smart enough to come up with a good enough excuse to get out of it) will pile into a huge wilderness center in northern Scotland where we will stay overnight for two nights while participating in team bonding sessions and activities.
My definition of a retreat is this:
Retreat: (n.) An excuse made up by superiors to encourage “inner group bonding”; includes sitting in small groups talking about your feelings and playing games like the human knot, which I have never actually been able to get out of.
“Oh yeah?” grinned James. “Where did you hear that from?”
“A little birdy with a huge mustache whose name rhymes with Mary might have told me.”
“Gary?” He seemed skeptical. “You seem to have him wrapped around your finger these days.”
“Well, let’s just say that I’m great at a little method called ‘sucking up to superiors’.”
He rolled his eyes. “You should have been in Slytherin.”
Cue me bursting into laughter.
He just looked at me warily. I eventually calmed down when I began to choke and James had to resort to slapping me on the back. Hard.
“Man, that, was, funny.” I said breathlessly.
“Uh huh.” He was still looking at me like I was insane. “You okay?”
Ha, he actually seemed concerned for my sanity.
“Oh yeah, brilliant. That joke actually just made my day.” I pondered for a second. “Well actually, breaking our team’s record in field practice took that prize, but your joke made my five minutes.”
He just rolled his eyes, obviously done being concerned for me. Which is good, as I certainly don’t need his bloody concern. I am an independent person after all. And a Gryffindor, as I just blatantly proved. I mean, I was the girl who would T.P. the Slytherins on a whim. Seeing their faces at breakfast the next morning was like seeing a little kid’s face light up on Christmas, except, you know, the opposite facial expressions.
Hahaha. It’s funny just remembering it.
“What are you smiling at?” James asked, bringing me back to present time.
“Oh nothing.” I said serenely, in a private moment of bliss.
“So, would you like to tell me why I found a snake in my pencil drawer this morning?” He asked, changing subject completely.
I smirked, biting my lip to keep myself from breaking out into laughter.
“You found a snake in your drawer?” I said, acting appropriately surprised. “And you didn’t tell me?”
“Frankly, I didn’t think you’d be of much help.” He said, sighing. “In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion that you had something to do with it.” He looked at me pointedly.
“Little old mwah? Never.” I said, acting scandalized at the thought, grinning behind my hand.
He sighed. “Whatever. I already know it was you.”
“James Sirius Potter! I would never do such a thing!” I gasped.
He rolled his eyes yet again.
“Oh, and by the way, I would look out for more. Whoever did it probably had the whole lot of snakes that you originally stole from me, which was about seven. Good luck!” I called over my shoulder as I left the training room for lunch with Roxy, ignoring his calls of indignation.
After lunch, I returned to the office, intent on doing some paperwork. It had been a good, productive lunch break, as will be revealed shortly.
I went and sat at my desk, intent on being productive. James was nowhere to be found. About ten minutes into a file, there was a shout and a banging sound. Then a very loud expletive in the voice of our favorite slacker.
James burst into our desk area, levitating a snake in mid-air, which kept slashing around and thrashing out. He cleared his throat loudly.
“Oh, hello Jimmy. That’s a nice new pet you have there.” I said nonchalantly. “You should name it Pete. It’s a nice name for a snake.”
“Care to explain why there was a snake in the men’s restroom?”
“How would I know what goes on in the men’s loo?” I asked innocently.
He glared at me. “Well it’s not like it would be the first time you’ve wandered on into a men’s room.”
Darn. He got me. “Honestly James, I don’t know where you come up with these wild accusations.”
A crowd had begun to form around Me, James and Pete.
“You little conniving….”
Unfortunately for James, James was not able to finish his sentence because Gary chose that moment to wander over.
“What the devil is going o-“
Unfortunately for Gary, Pete chose that moment to lash his tail out, smacking Gary in the face.
Unfortunately for James and Alex, we were in deep shit now.
James and I made brief panicked eye contact, before scrambling to attend to the unconscious Gary.
“You…. Two…. Are… in … deep… shit.” He said, voicing our thoughts, before blacking out again.
And that, is how James and Alex found themselves sitting in the St. Mungo’s waiting room an hour later, bored out of their minds, waiting for Gary to come to so that he could fire them both.
“This is so your fault James Sirius Potter.”
“My fault? You’re the one who let a snake loose in the office!”
“While you’re the one who hit Gary over the head with the snake!”
“Yeah, because you put him in the men’s room!”
“Which I only did because you stole my snakes in the first place!”
“Yeah, because I knew you were going to do something stupid with them, and you did! And I only did it because you glued my glasses to my face!”
“Which I only did because, because you…” All right, so technically it is my fault. “Because you’re a prat!”
He rolled his eyes. “Whatever. It doesn’t matter whose fault it is, we’re both going to get fired!”
“Why are you so nervous then? It’s not like you’ll have any trouble getting a new job! Heck, you don’t even need a job, your family’s loaded! Meanwhile, I’ll be out on the streets, pounding the pavement for real work because I’ll have no money as a lonely waitress and therefore be homeless, as I don’t have a family to welcome me back into a cozy mansion!” I ranted.
“Hey! I need this job too! And if you’re homeless, then maybe that’s how things were meant to end up!”
“What’s that supposed to mean?” I yelled.
“It just means that everything happens for a reason.” He said. “If you’re meant to get fired, then so be it. If you’re meant to live on the streets for a year, then you’ll live on the streets for a year. I happen to believe firmly that every little thing happens for a reason.” His voice was calmer now, less angry. I was puzzled by the turn in this conversation.
“What, so me being homeless is ‘meant to be’ at this point?” I asked, irritated.
“Look, some things are inevitable.” He went on, tetchily. “Some things happen because fate wants them to happen.”
“Oh, and since when do you believe in fate?” I asked. This was getting ridiculous.
“Since… since…” He stumbled. “I don’t bloody know do I!?”
“Well, I’ll bet that you do know, because the answer is never!” I shouted. “The James I know would never believe in something as stupid as ‘Fate’!”
“The James you know?” Now he just looked ticked. “Don’t pretend like you all of a sudden know me, as if the past eight years haven’t happened! You think you know what my life is like now? Do you? Well I can assure you that it sure as hell isn’t as great as you think it is, and I know that your life sucks worse than goat shit, but since when have you ever cared? You used to be the girl who wouldn’t care! You never whined about losing your parents! Ever! Not once! Not about your house being gone, or losing your dog, or losing everything you had! I’ve seen you cry once when we were five years old! So why now? Why complain now, when it’s actually your fault that your life is screwed up!”
He took a deep breath and stormed out of the reception area, towards the coffee room. I sighed and sat down tiredly. I sat and pondered for about three minutes, during which I couldn’t sit still, knowing that James was in the other room, fuming about me. Don’t ask me why, but I hated it when he was mad at me. Not pissed or annoyed, but actually generally mad. James is actually a generally happy person, doesn’t let much get to him. In fact, he’s only been this mad at me about five times, ever, the past four of them from when we were in our last years at Hogwarts.
I sighed dejectedly, got up, and went into the coffee room where he was mulling over a steaming cup of black coffee. I quickly poured myself the same thing, (I practically live off of black coffee and tea) and plopped down next to him.
“This is the sixth time you’ve ever been mad at me.” I said, sipping my coffee. “Ever.” I took another sip. “In all our lives.”
I took yet another sip, peering over to see what his expression was. It was blank, expressionless. I sighed.
“It’s true you know. What you said. I’ve been complaining a lot lately. Been a stick in the mud, really. I tell myself that I have a reason to be, but that’s bull piss. I have no reason. It’s not the worst my life has ever been, that’s for sure, and there are still plenty of people out there whose lives have been way worse than mine. I may have next to nothing besides my puke small apartment and a couple of potted plants and a mattress with sheets on it, but there are people with way worse problems than that.
“And you’re right. I really don’t know you anymore. We used to know everything about each other. You’re still the only one who’s ever seen me cry. But I do know that you’re a Chudley Cannons maniac, are obsessed with Quidditch in general, hate tofu, love the color blue, hate the color green, love to eat waffles when you get upset, you used to date that one slut whose name I can’t remember but you were infatuated with her for a good month when she broke up with you, I know that you used to think I was pretty, you love your siblings, secretly love your parents, secretly hate your cousin Louis because he tries to beat you at everything you do, you used to think that whatever happened was our own damn fault, used to believe that Thestrals were made up until you realized that I could see them, Teddy’s your hero even though you always say that it’s your childhood dog. You love the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, and Bob Marley. You secretly love the muggle sport football, and used to play it with me in the summer. You used to love spending time with me, you used to love anything that I made you try, except tapioca because it’s absolutely disgusting. And you used to love me.” I looked at him briefly and saw that he was staring back at me.
“I used to be your best friend. I was for ten f-ing years, and you were mine too.” I finished softly.
He looked away and sighed. I could tell that he wasn’t mad anymore, not really. But he still deserved to hear what I had to say next.
“And I’m sorry. For everything.” I reached out and circled my arm around his shoulders. “And I mean everything.”
He smiled and put his arm around me too. “You’re forgiven.” He looked at me, his bright green eyes burning into mine. I came in closer, hugging myself to his chest, relieved beyond relief that he had forgiven.
And I couldn’t help but smile too. Even though I might lose the job that had kept me alive for the past month, even though I could lose what little things I had, I had James again. Somewhat. But somewhat was better than not at all.
I looked up at his face. He was still smiling, his expression otherwise curious. “Friends?” I asked.
“Friends.” He agreed.
His expression flickered for a second, faster than I could catch. If only I could tell what was going through his mind.
Man, if only I had a Knut for every time she made me wonder what was going through her mind. I’d be a rich man, I decided as I looked down at her face, content against my shoulder. The sight of her made me smile.
Alex tended to do that a lot. She didn’t like to show weakness, ever, so her trusting me like this was big. It was a nice change. It sure was a lot more fun than her gluing my glasses to my face, as genius as I have to admit that was.
She sighed, her expression flickering, showing that she was thinking of something else now. Something a little sad maybe. I hoped it wasn’t too sad. I liked it when she was happy. I haven’t seen her truly happy since before the accident. I’d seen flickers of it in the past month, but those flickers were only flickers, which couldn’t compare to the radiance of her true happiness.
Wow, I sound like a complete sap in that last little bit there. Let me assure you right here, right now, that James Potter is not a sap. Repeat after me:
James Sirius Potter is not a sap, but a supermegafoxyawesomehot manly man.
If that doesn’t evaporate your doubts, refer back to the previous paragraph and repeat the steps.
Yes, now rather than later people.
“Mr. Potter and Ms. Johnson?” A receptionist called, bringing me back to the present.
Alex sprang up off my chest. “We're here.”
“Gary is ready to talk to you both.” She said, holding the door open for us as we found our way out.
I gulped. This ought to be good. Alex practically ran to Gary’s room, me following her as best I could.
We reached the door, and Alex looked at me nervously. I nodded gravely and she turned, knocking softly on the door. We heard a gruff voice say, “Come in”.
Alex led the way again, and we entered the room, stopping at the foot of Gary’s bed side-by-side nervously, Alex picking at the dirt under her nails and biting her lip like she always does when she’s nervous.
Gary spoke first.
“You two are idiots.” He began. Here goes. “I can’t believe that you were let into our department. You were lucky that my cheek was split open and not my eye.” His mustache jiggled as he glared us down.
“You two better fix whatever rivalry you have going on by the end of this weekend or you’ll be fired for sure.” He looked at us menacingly. Then what he said registered in my brain and in Alex’s too.
“You mean we’re not fired?!” She yelled, looking up and meeting his eyes.
He grumbled. “And fire the two best recruits I’ve seen since the Battle of Hogwarts? You two messed up this time, but-“
He wasn’t able to finish his sentence because Alex chose this moment to tackle him in a hug.
“Uumph.” Was all that came out his mouth while Alex was currently yelling ecstatically.
“Thank you! Thank you! Thank you! I’m not going to be homeless after all! I’m not going to live on the streets as a dirt poor waitress after all! Did you hear that James? We’re keeping our jobs!”
Gary was spluttering. Alex seemed to notice and climbed off him gently.
“Oops. I’m so sorry Gary! Thank you! Thank you!” She said.
“Yeah, just get the hell out of here so I don’t have to see either of your faces.” He grunted.
I then proceeded to drag Alex out of the room, smiling as she jumped up and down excitedly. I smiled too, relieved that I got to keep my job. And that Alex wasn’t homeless of course.
As I closed the door to Gary’s room and stepped away, something flew at me that and I smelt something like a combination of vanilla, wood and grass, as the thing was nearly knocking me over.
I realized that it was, of course, Alex.
“Oh my God! I’m so relieved I could kiss you right now James!” She exclaimed without thinking.
Then she realized what she said and that several people had heard and were watching curiously. She blushed, jumping down from me.
“Well, not really, since there are a bunch of people staring at me right now and that would be completely inappropriate, and not to mention completely awkward, and-“
“Hey.” I interrupted. “It’s okay. I know what you mean.” She looked relieved all over again. “So, you hungry?” I asked casually.
“Starving.” She admitted.
“Want to come get Chinese with me?” I said, testing the waters a bit. “I’m not really ready to go back to my flat right now, and I’m tired of pizza and ramen noodles.”
She thought about it briefly. “Yeah sure, what the heck? I know a good place downtown. We can take the muggle underground. You ever taken it?”
“Nope.” I admitted.
“Well then come on!” She said, grabbing my arm and pulling me towards the exit. “Let’s go!”
She pulled me out into muggle London and down into the first station she saw. She led me through the turnstiles, showing me how they work. They’re actually pretty cool. And they’re fun to walk through.
She pulled me through the gates onto a train headed towards the downtown area. We held onto handholds attached to the ceiling and all of a sudden we were moving. Fast.
“What’s so funny?” I said, scrunching my eyebrows together.
“Your face.” She said, laughing. There it was, that true happiness, back again, not just flittering away like it usually did.
“Your face is funny.” I shot back, laughing with her. It was hard not to laugh; her laugh just did that to people.
Now she was really laughing, swinging into me, while people stared at the two lunatics laughing on the underground.
“That was awful.” She said, breathless.
“Your face is awful.” I said between laughs.
“Your mom’s face is awful!” She said, cracking up all over again.
“What’s that about my comeback being awful?” I asked, laughing, feeling almost drunk on her laughter. It just kind of consumed me, like a fire in my chest. A warm blazing feeling.
Not that I’m being sappy again. Because that was definitely not sappy at all. Whatsoever.
She grinned at me, leaning even closer, so that my face was only about a centimeter away from hers. I smiled back, leaning in to close the gap when the train jolted and we smashed foreheads with each other.
“Ow!” She said indignantly, holding her forehead. Her expression was disgruntled, but she was blushing. I couldn’t help but laugh at her funny expression, despite the pounding going on inside my brain.
Then she smiled, rolling her eyes, showing her nice white teeth. Well, I mean they weren’t that white, but she obviously brushed them at least once a day.
“Come on loser.” She smiled, pulling me off the train, past the turnstiles in a whole different station, up the stairs into a busy downtown muggle London street. It was about eight thirty so the lights were all on, and the city was lit up nicely. Alex practically skipped down the road, pulling me with her by the hand. Finally, we reached a tiny little shop on the corner of the street with lanterns hanging outside, lit up with little designs on the sides.
She pushed open the door, a little bell ringing. We walked into the tiny little restaurant which happened to be very quiet on this Wednesday night. There was a short older woman at the door to greet us.
“Hello Alex, good to see you. Who is this?” She said to Alex, looking at me.
“This is my friend James.” She said.
“Nice to meet you.” I nodded.
“Where do you want to sit today?” She asked.
Alex considered. “How about by the window? I haven’t sat in that one over there before.” She pointed to a table next to the window next to the door.
The lady smiled and set down menus for us to use at the table. Alex let go of my hand, sitting down at the table.
“What was that about?” I asked, curious. It was times like this that I wish I could read her mind.
“I come here a lot.” She began.
“Yeah, I figured that.” I said. “But what about the whole seating thing?”
“I like to sit somewhere different every time. I usually sit by the window on that side, or as close as I can to it, or somewhere close to the kitchens.” She smiled looking around, pointing out the various places.
“I see. So how come you like this place so much?”
“It’s fantastic here. The food’s great, the people are brilliant, and it’s just a great place to sit and think, you know?” Her expression was almost dreamy, but more serious and peaceful. It astounded me often how down to earth Alex was, how she didn’t care about how she looked, and how she didn’t need much for her to be content. How she had nearly nothing, yet here she was, happy again. With me.
“Makes sense.” I decided.
“What about you?” She asked. “Do you have anywhere like this that you usually go to?”
The question kind of threw me off. “Not really.” I thought. “I like to go to this one park though, its right behind my flat, you can see it out my window. It’s actually really nice there. Looks really cool in the winter too, when the muggles put little twinkly lights up on the trees. And for New Year’s eve, they have a sort of cool lantern festival that looks fantastic, the sky and the park all lit up from the lanterns floating around.”
She smiled. “Sounds nice. You’ll have to show me sometime. I’d like to see that.”
I grinned back. “Yeah I will. Promise.”
“Good.” She decided.
Then the nice lady came over and took our orders. Alex helped me pick out some dish with a bunch of meat in it, while she chose some sort of spicy noodle thing with chicken and peppers and curry paste that she had been meaning to try. She ordered rice too, and two iced teas with lime. My mouth was watering, and we were both starving, so she told the lady to surprise us with a third dish.
“So, your siblings enjoying school?” She asked conversationally. Alex seemed to like Al and Lily, she just didn’t really know them very well, but she kept up an interest in them while she was at Hogwarts.
“While, Al’s enjoying sixth year, and Lily’s, well, Lily.” I said, hoping she would remember how spirited my sister could be.
“Ah, I see.” She said, seeming to understand. “Are they doing Quidditch?”
“Yeah, Al’s as good as ever, and Lily’s proving herself as a pretty good chaser.”
“I bet. She has the right amounts of ferocity and energy.”
“Kind of like you then.” I said, and she smiled.
“I think I had more of the ferocity then the energy, but they work somewhat similarly.” She shrugged.
“You were a great chaser.”
“We worked well together, didn’t we?” She said. “When we weren’t fighting that is.” She added.
“Still do.” I said truthfully, grinning. She smiled back at me.
The food came shortly, the surprise dish some sort of shrimp.
I shall describe the food in no more than three words. Best. Damn. Food.
Alex was right, of course. The food was brilliant. My meat dish thing was great, and it was hard to get past the spiciness of Alex’s noodle dish, as it was flaming hot, but it was good past the screaming.
She laughed as I stood up quickly, knocking my chair backwards, my face steaming up and screaming for water.
“Water just makes it worse, silly.” She rolled her eyes, laughing, and forced me to sit down and eat a bit of rice. She smiled, shaking her head while continuing to eat the Death Valley on a plate.
We continued talking, and laughing past the point where we were both finished. She had moved her chair closer to mine, and we talked for what must have been an hour. It was amazing, just spending this time with her, getting to know her again, without the pranking and the snogging.
Oh great, now that I brought it up, I can’t stop thinking about it. Snogging her is honestly fantastic. Definitely the best kissing I’ve ever experienced. Of course, that’s all she sees it as. Snogging, that is. Now I can’t stop staring at her lips, when they’re moving, when they’re not. I can’t stop thinking about how they taste and feel.
We finally get up to leave around eleven o’ clock as the store is closing. I walk Alex to her flat a couple of blocks away, and as we stop in front of her door, I can’t help but reach out and touch her soft lips during a moment of silence. She stares up at me, eyes wide, and we lean in. I want to kiss her, but I can’t. We’re actually friends now, and I don’t want her to freak out on me.
So I settle for a kiss on the forehead, a goodbye, and a smile, which she returns. I make sure she gets into her flat okay, then turn and walk down the street alone, the street wet from a rainstorm earlier today, the light from the streetlamps reflecting in the wet pavement. I walk for a while, sorting things out through my brain. I don’t realize how close I am to my own home until I’m standing in the park I was telling her about, the one behind my flat.
I can’t help but wonder what Alex is doing right now, what she’s thinking about. Maybe she’s thinking about my lips on hers, or how much she loves spending time with me, like I am of her.
But chances are, she’s probably thinking the opposite, and I’m just delusional, distracted by her pretty smile and soft lips, as well as how happy she was tonight, and how strong she’s always been.
But even worse than that, the better chances are, she’s probably already moved on, and is thinking about Quidditch or Roxy’s latest dilemma, as she’s already forgotten how nice this night really was, and I’m still hanging on to this dream of a night.
A/N: Thanks for reading, as always! Kind of a meloncholy ending, but look at the length of this chapter!! I was really excited about this chapter, because it kind of came out of nowhere and it was a big deal for James and Alex to go through this.
Soooo...... James! What did you think??
They're 'friends' now! But are they really? What do you think they are? Let me know what you think that means, I'm curious to know what you think!
P.S. Loved all the reviews this story got last time! made my day! Love all you people that reviewed!