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Chapter 15: The one with the ending
It was strange.
As events transpired, James was not a father and Jan went weirdly protective over his ass (or other body parts that I don’t want to think about) and shot the slightly crazed lady down for trying to gain publicity through having James Potter’s child – of all the times I’ve seen Jan angry, I don’t think I’d ever seen her quite so terrifying as then. James came over for a drink (I think he needed one) then, after a single scotch, he went home. Jan and I went back to our new lives.
And we didn’t hear from James for a fortnight.
And I missed him.
Jan and I had placed bets on who’d look most burnt when Rose and Scorpius returned from the holiday, which had ended up stretching out to two whole months rather than the original three weeks they’d intended (“After we’d moved in together, Al, they had to extend it or else they’d have been well and truly out coupled”) – it was an interesting toss up from Scorpius being a very blonde, very pale git and Rose being ginger.
As it turned out, Rose was freckled and Scorpius was an alarming shade of burnt. The sort of shade of burnt that made you want to start wearing sun cream on a daily basis, despite the fact that the September weather was far from toasty. I was wincing for him every time he moved.
“Nice flat.” Scorpius said.
“Is it peeling yet?” I asked, pulling out a beer for Scorpius and seeing him put on a good show of being excited by the prospect – apparently Rose had told Jan that Scorpius didn’t even like beer, but felt like too much of an idiot to ask for wine. Rose had sworn her to secrecy, so of course I knew. And then I’d told James. It was a safe bet that everyone knew now, but no one would say anything and instead Scorpius would receive gifts of beer for the rest of his unhappy life with Rose – family standard, really.
Rose sent me a sharp look. Rose standard – figures.
I poured Rose a glass of Rosé. Jan offered me a bemused smile at this but Rose didn’t really get it. Jan plucked my beer from my hands and claimed it as her own. I liked Jan. She was cute.
“How’s work?” Rose asked curiously, setting down her glass of wine and more or less ignoring it.
That sent Jan off on a significantly long gush about healer duties, which I mostly tuned out because I’d heard all of it before when it was just the two of us, and instead just sat on the edge of the sofa next to her. One of Jan’s hands distractedly brushed over the surface of my jeans as she continued gushing onwards.
Scorpius really was a spectacular shade of scarlet. I was debating, as I tilted my head slightly him, whether to refer to it as ‘Gryffindor red’ or ‘Quaffle red’ – I supposed I could ask Jan later, but I really wanted to get conformation from James. He’d definitely know.
The bloody throw that James had brought that, for reasons unknown, had yet to be incinerated was sticking to my back in the way that pink fluff does when you’re making out on top of it.
“Al,” Jan muttered, not in the mid-snog sort of way but in an irritated sort of way, “don’t even think about complaining about the damn throw.” Then, without giving me a chance to protest that I really didn’t like the bloody thing and could we not just move it first she’d reconnected our lips. And then, with her stubby painted fingernails digging into my hip, her lips pressed fiercely against mine and her hair falling over my face (which was, incidentally, why Jan should never get to be the one doing the straddling), it was difficult to remember my complaint.
Jan was in a bad mood. She was taking it out on my face.
As her loving boyfriend, I was willing to take this one for the team.
I just didn’t understand why it had to be on the bloody throw.
“Jan,” I began, trying not to get distracted from the point by a mildly underdressed Janet Harper pressing kisses into my neck, who was essentially on top of me, upon the sofa, on this godamn throw. “I thought we were - ”Jan’s hair was all in my face again, damn, even when I borrowed her shampoo (which Jan wasn’t to know, obviously) I didn’t smell that good, “ - going out for dinner.”
“Do you,” Jan began, drawing back slightly to raise her eyebrows at me, “want to go to dinner, Albus Potter?” She shifted her hips slightly. I’m not entirely sure whether it was intentional. “Or,” she said, kissing me so softly I could barely feel it, “we could,” hand moving from the hip up my side, “stay in.”
“Janet Harper,” I returned, pulling myself upwards slightly so I wasn’t so much lying (not by choice, Jan had more or less launched herself at me after flooing back from work), but propped up by the arm of the sofa, reaching out and pushing a lock of her infuriating hair back behind her ear, “we have a reservation.”
“I have no reservations.”
“Al,” Jan said, shifting herself so she was almost sitting on my lap again; foreheads touching, another kiss, “I don’t really feel like getting dressed and going out all over again after... such a long day at work.”
“You got your work robes off quickly enough.” I said. Jan was currently clad only in her underwear and her tights. She looked ridiculous, but sort of cute. She was practically begging me to be responsible for laddering said tights.
“I’m not entirely sure why you’re complaining,” Jan said, pouting slightly as one of her hands absently started playing with the belt hooks of my trousers. Bloody woman. “If it really bothers you that much, we can do away with the throw.”
“Throw? What throw?” I muttered. Jan’s chest was all pressed against me and her lips were slightly parted and she looked so very Janlike and adorable and who cared about dinner anyway?
“Thought so.” Jan said, wrapping her arms around my neck and bringing our lips decidedly back together.
With a bit off shuffling around and a lot more snogging and Jan being a cruel fiendish wrench, as per usual, Jan was back down on the sofa, framed with a hideous, fluffy pink halo.
Jan kissed my shoulder. And then she stopped. And she was irritated.
“Oh for goodness sake, Al. Stop thinking about the throw.”
“I can’t!” I protested, hovering millimetres from Jan’s lips before I’d gotten distracted by the feel of it pressed against my palm (the hand that was holding me up and keeping me from falling on Jan, which she probably wouldn’t appreciate). “It’s like the yellow hair thing.”
“Get your shit together, you woman.”
“It’s like a pink yeti!”
“Would it help if I was naked?”
“I’d like to say yes.”
“This is ridiculous,” Jan muttered, apparently affronted. Oh, god, I’d forgotten this whole thing had started because she was in a bad mood, “let’s go out for dinner.”
“Jan,” I whined, “Jan, I love you more than I hate the throw, okay. Who needs dinner? We can get a takeaway.”
“Pay attention to me then, you tosser.”
“Love you.” I muttered, letting her pull me downwards so we were both lying face to face upon the throw, on the sofa.
“Save the mush,” Jan said, smiling again. “Actually, just don’t talk; you’re incredibly annoying.”
Then it was back to where we started: only Jan had shed the tights and the positions were slightly flipped over, which meant Jan’s hair was only in my face when I was kissing the spot below her earlobe, and I wasn’t thinking about the throw (much).
And then there was an ear splitting crack.
And James had appeared in our front room.
“God,” James said, turning away from the sofa rather dramatically, using his whole arm to shield his eyes, “it’s like a bloody flashback."
Jan’s initial priority had been scrambling around and throwing the throw over her mildly underdressed form (and what a form), but the second she was wrapped in her fluffy pink cocoon she called James something her mother wouldn’t like and began ranting on about how James shouldn’t just bloody walk in whenever he felt like it then and about how the door had been locked that time and that it was obvious that a locked door wasn’t a challenge and that James should just sod the bloody well off.
“You always have to ruin my night!” Jan concluded. “And don’t you dare say another derogative about your brother, James,” a nice precautionary measure, since I could practically hear James’s thought process picking the best comment to insinuate that I was going to be the one to ruin her night with a side order of uncomfortable euphemism.
“Al,” Jan said starkly, folding her arms over her chest, “I’ll be in our room when James crawls back to his lonely existence and stops encroaching on our plans.”
Then she stalked off with her tights caught round her foot, waddling slightly due to the way the throw was wrapped around her legs. She looked quite cute actually. The throw suited her.
James and I both watched her and then, when the door closed with a slam, I turned back to James with my eyes raised slightly.
“Do make it quick.”
“No doubt you will.”
“I just... Mum wanted to me to tell you that you and Jan are invited over for lunch on Monday.”
“Jan’ll be working. I'll go on my own, I suppose. Is that all? Are we done?”
For a second James looked like he was considering asking something, perhaps some ludicrous favour or something of the sort... then he glanced shrewdly towards the door Jan had so recently slammed and frowned slightly. “Guess so.” James shrugged, and for a second he looked as though he was bordering on something alarming... something slightly sad.
“Have you, erm, got plans tonight?”
“Yeah,” James said, “Quidditch party. I’m late actually. I’d say they wouldn’t miss me, but that’s total crap. S’laters, little brother.”
And, with that, James was gone. He’d only been in the flat for about a minute and for once he wasn’t leaving anything exploded or destroyed in his wake which, in itself, was a bloody miracle.
But it wasn’t right, either.
“Janet,” I said, watching as she removed her nail varnish at top speed, with a slightly more concentrated version of the mournful expression twisting her features, “are you ever just going to accept that your nails shalt be forever unpainted?”
“No,” Jan said pointedly, gulping down her cup of tea, grabbing mine and finishing half of that before giving me a quick kiss and running round to find her bag, “if I’m late I’m telling them it’s your fault.”
“I was trying to save you time,” I said, grinning as I watched her attempting to tie up her hair and counting up the galleons in her purse, “you were just a little too thankful.”
“Breakfast in bed was a great idea,” Jan agreed, “Can I borrow a couple of galleons? Need to go to Gringotts after work.”
“Sure,” I said, “take it out my wallet.”
“Gladly,” Jan said, grinning as she kissed me again, scraping her hair back away from her face and attempting to tie her hair back a second time (as during the first time a lot of hair remained a little too free for the St Mungo’s regulations), removing my wallet from the trousers I’d been wearing yesterday and emptying a couple of galleons into the palm of her hand, “can you go shopping at some point today, Al? We’re nearly out of food.”
“Course.” I said, watching as Jan bustled over to kiss me one final time, before turning on the spot and apparating away.
Jan had taken to the whole Healer business better than anyone else who’d never taken to anything. I wasn’t quite as passionate about Auror training, if I was honest, which was pretty good considering it was finally my day off.
Admittedly, this would be spent visiting my parents and going grocery shopping, but it was marginally better than spending the day cooped up at the Ministry having information about tracking devices drilled into my brain.
And I hadn’t seen James since he interrupted Jan and me, and that was only for a second, and before that it must have been… ages, really.
It hadn’t seen my parents without my siblings for a really long time. It always felt slightly odd, to me – unbalanced. I was far too used to outnumbering them in all aspects (even if Lily was off somewhere, I counted James and I as outnumbering Mum and Dad; hell, James could outnumber flaming anyone all by himself) so to suddenly be in the minority felt a little off. It still sent a jerk of something like nostalgia to my gut though, seeing them framed in the doorway and offering me their usual parental smiles.
“Where’s James today?” I asked, distractedly, as I followed them into the kitchen.
“Oh, he’s playing against the Canons.” Mum said.
“I didn’t know that.” I muttered and it felt all wrong.
After the thirteen and a half arguments surrounding Jan and I moving in together (James had eavesdropped, counted and transcribed each of them – apparently it was nice not to be the one on the receiving end of Mum’s eternal wrath), I’d begun to recognise Dad’s expression which quite clearly meant ‘we’re about to tell you what to do, but it’s only because we love you’ and Mum’s more brutal ‘I’m going to argue this point until you admit that I’m right’ which, incidentally, had a hundred percent success rate until she tried to talk me out of looking round flats and subsequently moving into one of them with one Janet Harper.
I’d been treated to a whole variety of saved up arguments about more or less everything: she brought up the argument Jan and I had when we were twelve, the fact that this could lead to me losing my all-time best friend for the sake of – well, she’d gotten a bit crude and disturbing at that point, which had definitely been something James had quoted back at me and I’d have preferred to block out of my memory permanently – and then there’d been financial reasoning, and finally a bit of guilt tripping ‘is my house not good enough for you anymore?’ until Dad had stepped in and saved me from further attack.
Apparently, Mum had a similar argument with Grandma Molly when she wanted to move in with Harry. The reminder of this seemed to mellow Mum out to the point when she hadn’t permanently charmed my stuff so that it couldn’t leave the room. Although, I suspected if it wasn’t for the fact that they’d both missed me it’d all still be a bit tense.
Still, I’d really hoped that I could have avoided that expression at least until I accidentally got Jan knocked up, or something.
“Are we waiting till after dinner?” I suggested lightly. “Or are we going to start the nagging now?”
“Tea?” Mum said brightly, quirking up her eyebrows and offering me a little shrug, bustling out of the room and leaving me sat face to face with Dad.
“Look, Al,” Dad said, absently messing up his hair with his left hand, “I wanted to talk to you about something.”
“It’s not that I don’t think you’re good enough,” Dad said, now with Mum onside and half way through a really lovely pasta (it was amazing how much I appreciated Mum’s cooking now either Jan or I cooked – the sad thing was, I was much better than Jan and I occasionally burnt soup). “It’s just I don’t think you care enough.”
It was about my job.
About Auror training.
About maybe not Auror training.
“Forgive me if I’m wrong, Al,” Dad said, “but it seems like you just picked the idea out of nowhere and decided you had nothing better to do. I just… is this really what you want, Al?”
That was a no. What I wanted, really, was just to go back to my cosy little flat with Jan and actually be able to spend time with her. Jan wanted to be a Healer, always had, always would, I just wanted to be able to live off the money I earned. I knew the career choice was a matter of not being bothered to think of the other options, but I hadn’t thought that it had been so obvious. Mum had that knowing expression, Dad looked as awkward as he always did in these chats, I felt… slightly relieved.
“Because, I honestly think you’re doing a James,” Dad continued, with one of those world-weary exchanges of glances with Mum that always accompanied that sort of comment, “he’s just about good enough to play Quidditch professionally, but they’ve hired him because of the name. Look, Al, don’t tell your bother I said this – because I tried having this conversation with him and he wasn’t having any of it, but he’s got no drive to be a Quidditch player just as you have no drive to be an Auror, and there’s no point dragging yourself through the training if it’s not what you want. I can slip your name into a few conversations,” he continued, “find you something better – there’s an interesting position in Law Enforcement going.”
“I’ll have to talk to Jan,” I said slowly, trying to anticipate her reaction to such a drastic career mood. I couldn’t imagine her minding too much, really, because I’d be earning money sooner and I’d have more time. Her parents, however, were likely to blow: they’d only just managed to accept me as being a valid human being after Jan had pulled out that ‘his Dad’s Harry Potter’ and ‘he’s training to be an Auror’ cards and even then they had refused to speak to me or mention me by name.
In the Harper household I was ‘that boy.’ Even Eleanor, who’d gotten another three piercings (wasn’t about to ask where) since she’d left Hogwarts had joined in with it. Considering Eleanor had gained another tattoo, dyed her hair black and had another pregnancy scare in the length of time it had taken us to find us a flat I considered this a tad unfair, but I wasn’t about to start the argument with Mr Harper (or Mrs Harper, who was the really scary one).
“I said you’d say that,” Dad said, smiling, “Al, I’m proud of you.”
Parental relationships were odd: it didn’t matter how old you were, or how well adjusted you were, when either of your parents said something like that you realised how much you’d wanted them to say it. Proud.
“It’s good that your taking your relationship with Jan serious,” Mum conceded, “you’re much too young to be in such a serious relationship but, well…”
“These things happen.” Dad said. By ‘things’ I assumed he meant sometimes you do something inconvenient like fall in love with your best friend when your still a kid or you might accidentally fall for your best friends kid sister when you’re supposed to be concentrating on vanquishing a Dark Lord: those sorts of things.
And hey, the guy who’d destroyed seven horcruxes, sacrificed his life, survived a killing curse or two and killed a homicidal maniac with an ‘expelliarmus’, before marrying his best mates little sister despite all her hot headed big brothers was proud of me.
“Dad, are you… worried about James?” I asked slowly, an image of his slightly miserable expression the other day clouded my vision. Damn.
“We’re parents,” Mum said, “we’re always worrying.”
“Your Mum…” Dad said, pausing slightly, exchanging a glance. Mum shook her head slightly, Dad sighed and started again. “Well, Al, the problem with James is that he’s not grounded to anything. His friendships are fluid, girlfriends, what’s going on in his life at that particular moment and, Al, I don’t think you realise how much James depends on you for a bit of stability.”
“While you think he’s being a pain in the arse, he’s trying to tie himself to you,” Mum said, frowning slightly, “James doesn’t like us interfering much anymore, but… Al – you just watch out for your brother, okay? He loves you a lot.”
“I know that.” I said, thinking of the drunken James almost sweetly declaring he’d intended to ask me to move him with him, meaning Jan could visit all the time – as much as I could imagine that living with James equated to hell, it was slightly amazing that James had given our future a thought and he, too, had come up with a solution. “James is…” except there were too many ways to end that sentence and none of them seemed quite right – the more honest ones were a little too negative, maybe, and didn’t express the fact that despite it all I enjoyed all his bizarre eccentricities and spectacular oddness and that even though he was pain in my arse and sometimes it was difficult to put up with him whilst suppressing the urge to gag him with something smelly and unwashed, he was still my brother.
“Well, you just bare that in mind,” Mum said, “he’s going to need you to save his ass at some point.”
Well that was a slightly understatement and a strangely positive assumption from my mother. Saving James was practically my full time job.
“You sure you have to go already?” Mum asked, her lips pursing slightly as she reached forward to wrap me in another slightly crushing hug.
“I’ve got to get the shopping before Jan gets back,” I said, “thanks for dinner. Dad…” I said, watching as he seemed to get the hint and take another step out onto the street for a moment, Mum silently retreating back into the house that had at one point been my home, “you were going to say something and Mum stopped you, before.”
“Yeah,” Dad said, “right. Your Mum… she thinks, well, she’s always thought… that James had a… Look, Al, it’s nothing really. She just thinks that James has a thing for Jan.”
“That’s why she’s not always that nice to her,” Dad said, frowning slightly, “even if it’s true, Al, James wouldn’t… he wouldn’t ever do anything.”
My mind felt oddly blank. I could acutely remember the various explanations from James and Jan – of Jan saying how very angry she was, and James talking about the boycott. If James did like Jan then… my head hurt. My head really really hurt.
Can we agree that we’re not going to argue about the whole James thing again?
Yes, that had been a great idea from James’s point of view.
“Do you think he does?” I asked slowly. My brain was sticking. This was supposed to be my day off, damnit, and I didn’t need things like this thrown at me when all I’d wanted to do was get some bacon in because, frankly, I’d really been dying for a bacon sandwich for at least a week. Did my brother have some sort of thing for Jan?
James did spend time with the two of us, that was true, and had done for the start – I’d chalked that up to James wanting to nag me and enjoying winding Jan up. But it did sound like something that my highly idiotic brother would do by accident. All the girls he’d really liked had been terrible for him – Teagan Reaves, Evie Perks… Jan?
“I don’t know,” Dad admitted, with a small shrug of his shoulders, “what I do know is that Jan has been your best friend for years, that you’ve been together for a while and that you live together. James is your brother. I mean… he can handle it. He’d tell you what was going on if he couldn’t.”
“Dad,” I frowned, feeling my forehead creasing, “should I… are you… should I ask him?”
“Can you handle the answer?” Dad asked. Well, that was another no. I almost wished I hadn’t asked this far because, as much my brain was vehemently against the whole concept, I couldn’t seem to shake off this vague idea that it could be true. It didn’t seem too far of a stretch, really, because the thing that had stung so much about James getting off with Jan that time was that it was way beyond his usual levels of crap. He didn’t tend to mess with my feelings. Yet, if James had liked Jan and Jan had started kissing him then…
Then again, it was in the middle of the boycott and surely, surely he would have mentioned…
Dad must have noticed me pale slightly.
“Honestly, Al, don’t ask. Don’t mention it to Jan. Don’t mention it to James. It’s just your Mum, she could be way off mark and if she’s not… James will get over it. Don’t put yourself in that position.”
“Having to choose.”
Jan was my best friend. She was my girlfriend. She always had stubby nails painted in stupid colours and she said things that her mother probably wouldn’t like. She was going to be a great Healer and she understood the pain of having an utterly hopeless sibling.
And, in the end, if James pushed Jan too far and she forced me to choose, I’d choose James. But James would never push Jan that far, because he believed the opposite. And James would pick me too. And even if he did, like my Mum apparently thought, have some sort of thing to Jan, I’d still be his brother. He’d pick me then, too.
Merlin. Trust James to leave me questioning everything about my world on my single day off of the week without even being present for most of it – but that could change. I’d invite James over for dinner and nag Louis to teach me how exactly to cook. I’d get a couple of James’s favourite beers in. And Jan’s favoured red current rum.
I was not going to ask.
I was going to maybe think about a career move – I’d ask Jan and James about it – and I was probably going to live with Jan for a very long time (hopefully forever) and we might get married and have children and James might become some crazed uncle of sorts. And James would be a pain in the arse. And Jan and James would bicker.
And I was going to cook bacon.
And I was not going to ask James.
James would be a bachelor for years and years before finally, maybe, finding someone and having kids much too late and growing up – at least a little bit – after a classic case of a midlife crisis. I would probably have the passenger seat in the car of this midlife crisis, holding onto the edge of the stupid sports car as I rode it out to the bitter end with my colossal idiot of a brother. Jan would tell me to leave him to sink on his own. I wouldn’t. She’d understand.
And I was absolutely, emphatically never going to ask James.
Maybe, from a moral perspective, I should; but I reckoned there was this chance James owed me and he could probably help me out this time.
Hullo! Can you believe that we've finished? Probably not. Well, my plan always had another ten or so chapters... but fluid plans are always the best, right? As a result my original ending plan was a lot different (and much further in the future) which is why this took so long despite my best intentions. For the record, this was written on a beach in England and posted from a campsite in France. Truly an international chapter and CAN YOU BELIEVE THIS IS FINISHED? Well, not quite - there will still be the James centric spin off and I hope you don't hate me too much after this ^ but, well... had to be done. And now, this is me signing off this story for good! See you for the next one (I hope) ;)
EDIT: just a delayed note to know that the the spin off is now up and on my authors page! And, it has been for a long time I just forgot to add that to this authors note.