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How not to be a Woodley by NH Stadler
Chapter 25: A Teenage Frenzy
The Woodleys would have never made a scene.
As usual the struggle was internal.
I had stumbled out of the phone box inelegantly, my legs still slightly wobbly, which even I knew was just embarrassing, but no one had spoken a word; not to me, nor to each other. I had simply been ushered away from James with as much dignity as the situation would allow, and steered into the nearest fireplace.
Even now upon returning to my Grandparents’ house, away from prying eyes, my mother had calmly sent me up to my room, her voice curt but composed. No one had raised their voice. No one had even looked at me; except for Vala, who had given me weird glances whenever she thought I hadn’t been looking.
In proper Woodley vein, I was to be ignored until my parents and my grandparents, who had retreated to my Grandfather’s study, had reached their verdict concerning my fate.
It was frustrating, to say the least.
“What the hell were you thinking?” I heard Vala hiss as she followed me up the stairs, keeping just enough distance so that she would not tread on my dress as it swept the staircase behind me.
“Leave me alone, Vala,” I growled, not even bothering to turn around and face her. I couldn’t help thinking that it was rather rich of her to chastise me for my behaviour when she had done much worse things already than merely kissing a boy.
“Do you know what this means?” She had pursued me all the way down the corridor, apparently unabashed by my unwillingness to join the conversation.
Of course I knew what this meant. It meant the end.
The end of Hogwarts. The end of my freedom. The end of everything.
But the thought was too painful to allow into my head just yet and so I forced myself to push it away.
“I don’t need to be lectured by you,” I snapped as I had opened the door, whipping around to finally look at my cousin; the scared look on her face caught me off guard and I lost my train of thoughts for a moment. “I – I need to be alone.”
As the door snapped close behind me, I allowed myself to lean against the warm wood, my eyes closed to shield them from the glare of the ceiling light. My head throbbed in sync with my heart as one thought chased another, whirring so fast that I had difficulty holding on to one for longer than the fraction of a second.
I forced myself to stand upright again and quickly crossed the room to the desk in front of the window, grabbing a piece of wrinkled paper and an old ballpoint pen. But, just as I had written the words ‘Dear Katie’, my hand froze and I stared at the empty white sheet, realising that writing a letter could never have calmed the storm that was raging in my head, forcing me to trace my own footsteps over and over again, trying to disentangle the blur of tonight’s events so they made sense.
But they didn’t. None of it made sense. None of it was logical, yet, it had happened.
Frustrated, I crumpled up the almost empty page and chucked the pen I was holding carelessly at the small, round mirror on the vanity, where it hit the glass sharply and left a fine crack. I barely noticed, however, as my thoughts kept circling back to my Grandfather’s study, where surely my transfer to Madame Esther’s Magical Academy for Etiquette and Manners would be decided this second.
The sheer helplessness of my situation hit me hard and it induced a sudden recklessness that seemed to boil in my blood. An irresponsible urge to just run downstairs and tell them that I wasn’t a bloody puppet had gripped me, and I began to pace once more, yelling the words inside my head.
It was then, that my gaze fell onto the colourful piece of paper that stuck out from between the pages of one of my books; it was the old issue of Witch Weekly, which I had found in the library a couple of months ago, featuring the cover story of the Potters’ cottage on the Scottish country side.
A younger, roguish version of James was staring back at me from underneath the crumpled title and, suddenly, an idea began to form in my head.
I didn’t have a plan. My thoughts were running wild, disobeying any attempt to disentangle them, and all I knew was that I needed to get out of this house.
For a moment, I contemplated grabbing a coat and simply sneaking out the door, but I discarded this idea momentarily again when remembering once again that, in fact, there was nowhere to go. My grandparents’ house was conveniently located in the middle of a dense forest, so that no wandering Muggles would stumble upon the vast estate coincidentally.
Floopowder wasn’t an option either, since I had no clue where my grandparents kept their reserve and searching for it would not only raise suspicions, but also seemed rather futile considering the sheer size of the house. Hence, the only way I could effectively leave without scouring through the dark, snowy woods for hours, was apparition.
Legally, I wasn’t allowed to apparate, of course. I wasn’t even allowed to take the official test for another year. But during the last lesson before Christmas, I had actually succeeded in disappearing from inside the wooden hoop I had been standing in and appearing inside Thomas Walder’s. Admittedly, my aim had been slightly off, but, in principle, I could apparate.
Like a glowing door, a wealth of possibilities suddenly seemed to have opened up for me; I could go wherever I wanted. I wasn’t quite sure yet where exactly that would be, but the sheer prowess of being able to exert at least a quaint of control over my mess of a life filled me with reckless elation.
“Seth?” There was a sharp knock on my door and I froze momentarily, staring at the key underneath the handle and wondering if I had locked it. “Seth! Are you in there?” Vala’s muffled voice spoke again. “Let me in! We need to talk!”
I stared at the slowly moving handle, thinking that maybe it would be better to just stay; to let Vala in; to accept whatever my family would throw at me. It would have been the smart thing to do; the thing I usually would have done.
But I couldn’t –I did not want to do the smart thing. Maybe it was the residue of alcohol that still coursed through my veins, clouding my judgment, but just for once in my life, I did not want to be reasonable and responsible. And so I picked up James’ jacket which I had discarded on the floor before and, trying hard to get my cluttered mind to focus on my destination, I began to revolve on the spot as a roaring filled my ears and a terrible sensation of being sucked into a vacuum rolled over me until the room around me had dissolved into a whirl of indistinguishable colours.
No matter what people might say about apparating, materializing was definitely the worst part of the whole procedure; most of all when it included landing on a soggy patch of earth with a freezing wind whipping small, hard snowflakes into your face. Also, there was always this awful feeling of disorientation that accompanied the process, usually setting in after having made sure that there were no body parts missing.
Hence, for a moment, I was almost certain I had messed up my great escape and landed just a few miles from my grandparents’ house, whose outline was clearly visible among the towering snow-covered trees. However, when my eyes had adjusted to the darkness, I realised that the building that was nestled against the edge of the forest was much smaller and less intimidating than the house I had just fled from. Dark wafts of smoke were softly billowing from the chimney and warm light filtered through the drawn curtains, casting a faint glow on the snow that had built up on the window ledges of the cottage.
I had actually planned on apparating to Katie’s house, but, as I stared at the Potter’s home, which looked exactly like it had on the Witch Weekly cover, I realised that my subconsciousness must have had other plans. What exactly they were, I wasn’t quite sure; but I was beginning to shiver in my thin ball gown and so I began to move towards the house, hoping that some sort of plan would have formed in my head by the time I had reached it.
Alas, the only thoughts that ran through my mind were questions; I still wasn’t exactly sure how I had gotten here and, most of all, why. Not only was there a quite likely possibility that the Potters did not live here anymore, but I also wasn’t sure I wanted to come face to face with James or his family after everything that had happened tonight. After all, if the Woodley’s were any indication to go by, I wasn’t keen on learning how the Potters handled snogging in an enchanted phone box in front of Britain’s magical high society.
The only plausible idea that occurred to me was, thus, to get close enough to the house and hope that it was inhabited by wizards so that I could disparate again without anyone ever finding out what I had done. After all, no one had to know where I had been; I would simply sneak back into my room and wait for my family’s verdict.
It was a good plan – not brilliant, but solid; or, at least, it would have been, if I hadn’t mindlessly turned the corner and stopped in front of a brightly lit window with sloppily drawn curtains, staring at a scantily dressed James Potter like a deer in the headlights.
I could hear him yell out in shock, even through the glass, as he toppled backwards, the hem of his T-shirt (which he had been in the process of pulling over his head) awkwardly stuck to his upper-arms and shoulders.
For the lack of a better plan, and because I might still have been a little drunk, I smiled and waved.
“Seth?” James whispered, completely bewildered, as he opened his window while struggling to pull his shirt all the way down. “Are you okay? What happened? How did you-“
“I apparated,” I said quickly, not feeling like elaborating on what was actually going on. “I meant to end up at Katie’s house but – well, I kind of messed up.”
James stared at me for a moment and I was sure he was going to ask why on earth I had ended up here, lurking in front of his window like a complete creep; for all the times he had accused me of stalking him, this was the first instance I couldn’t have even blamed him for doing so. To my surprise, however, he didn’t say anything but simply held out his hand to me.
I stared at it stupidly, not sure what to do; the last time I had taken James Potter’s hand it had gotten us both into quite a sticky situation.
“Come on, Woodley. It’s freezing,” he urged softly and because it really was and because I wasn’t keen on running into any of the Potters while hanging out in front of their house like an overzealous fangirl, I reached out and let James pull me inside.
“You’re not seventeen yet, are you?” James had crossed the room in a few quick strides, rotating the key in the lock before turning back to look at me.
I simply shook my head, feeling suddenly awkward as I stood there in my bright red dress with James’ black jacket still draped across my shoulders. In comparison to his simple grey pyjama pants and the plain white T-shirt, I felt as though I was wearing a costume.
“So –“ He said slowly, raising his eyebrows at me with what seemed to be a mixture of disbelieve and curiosity.
“I’m not supposed to apparate, no,” I said as nonchalantly as I was able to, trying hard to ignore the slight prickle of panic that threatened to surface at the thought of having broken wizarding law. Shockingly, it hadn’t even been the first time this semester.
James frowned at me. “What’s wrong? Did you get into trouble?”
He sounded honestly concerned, but I could not allow myself to think about my family. Not in front of James. It had taken me about a year to open up to Katie; hence, baring my soul to a boy I barely knew was certainly not going to happen. Instead, I forced a smile. “Did you?”
“For kissing a girl?” He grinned slightly.
I couldn’t help a genuine smile but quickly reassembled my features in an attempt to look casual; as though I was kissing boys in phone boxes on a regular basis. James’ lips curled to a crooked smile and I felt my heartbeat quicken as he moved a little closer. He smelled of soap and fire wood and I suddenly noticed a sort of warmth spreading through my body.
“I still have your jacket.” I cleared my throat awkwardly, sliding the black cloth from my shoulders and handing it to James, who looked slightly bewildered as I thrust the piece of clothing at him. It felt simply too weird to hang around in his room like this; from the corner of my eye I could see sloppily hung up posters in red and gold and besides the pile of crumpled clothes that were heaped on the swivelling chair in front of his desk, lay what looked a lot like padded Quidditch underpants.
“Maybe – maybe I should go,” I said quickly, realising at the same time that, despite the dirty laundry and the awkward tension that had seeped into the room, leaving was the last thing I wanted to do at the moment.
“Yeah,” James said weirdly, his voice sounding hoarse. “Maybe.”
“Yeah,” I repeated and, without really meaning to, took a step towards him. My racing thoughts had picked up speed so that nothing but a soft pleasant buzz filled my head, tuning out every ounce of reason I might once have possessed.
James did not move – neither away nor towards me – and so it was me who closed the gap between us this time, my fingers clinging to his T-shirt, digging into the thin fabric as our lips touched.
I could feel his arms slide around my waist, but resisted his pull and, instead, tugged at his shirt; he understood immediately and lifted his arms above his head so that I could remove it, all the while looking at me with a somewhat astounded expression on his face.
I kissed him again, not wanting to give myself – or him – enough time to doubt my behaviour. I knew that whatever I was doing at the moment was somewhat against everything I was supposed to be, but it was exactly this thought that fuelled my actions.
My skin tingled as I felt James’ fingers fumble with the zipper of my dress and within seconds, the many-layered cloth had slid off my body and onto the floor, crumpling around my feet in a red heap. Usually, the fact that I was standing in a boy’s room, wearing nothing but gauzy underwear, would have triggered a mild panic attack, but before I could think too much about it James had pulled me towards him again, one hand in my hair, the other on my lower back.
Completely entwined, we staggered towards his unmade bed and collapsed clumsily into the sheets. James had pulled me on top of him, his warm breath prickling pleasantly on my skin as his lips grazed my neck, and I couldn’t help wondering if he could tell that I had never done anything like this before; rolling around half-naked with a boy. The girls he had been with surely had been more experienced than me and the fact that I didn’t exactly know where to move my legs might have been a bit of a giveaway.
But I wanted this – him; his body pushing against mine, our lips touching lightly as I hovered just inches above him, my fingers entwined in his hair as his moved upwards to undo the clasp of my bra. A jolt of excitement cursed through my body as James pushed himself up, his mouth brushing against my collarbone and I closed my eyes.
Obviously he knew exactly what he was doing.
And then, just as we had launched into our most passionate kiss yet, James suddenly pulled back.
For a moment I hadn’t even registered the sudden change in his demeanour, but when I opened my eyes, I found him lingering above me, propped up on his arms with a concentrated look on his face. He seemed to focus on a particular freckle on the bridge of my nose before finally looking up into my eyes, a slight frown creasing his forehead.
“I can’t believe I’m doing this,” he murmured, apparently more to himself than to me, and pushed himself off of me completely, relieving me of his weight.
“What?” I couldn’t help the confusion in my voice as I sat up, instinctively yanking the covers up to my collarbones. James had pressed both of his palms onto his face, muffling his voice as he spoke again.
“I – I can’t do this,” he said, running his hand through his dishevelled hair before scrunching it up in a fist.
“Are you serious?” I snapped, feeling the heat of humiliation crawling up my spine like a spindly spider. Everything that had happened up until this moment suddenly seemed incredibly embarrassing; like a painfully bad movie that was only possible to watch through the cracks between one’s fingers.
“Seth,“ James sighed as he watched me clumsily crawl out of his bed, dragging along the blanket that I had wrapped around my shoulders like an oversized cloak. “Listen –“
“No!” I said sharply, holding out a hand to stop him from coming closer. “Stay away from me!”
He halted, looking at me for a moment, probably expecting me to cry or shout or go to pieces at his rejection, but I was not going to. Instead, I quickly picked up my discarded dress and laboriously tried to pull it on underneath my makeshift cloak, ignoring the fact that I felt like a complete idiot.
“Seth,” James tried again, but this time another voice interrupted him, making both of us freeze for a second.
“James?” Ginny Potter asked loudly as she knocked on the locked door. “Are you alright?”
“Sure!” James called back, his eyes still fixed on me as I yanked up my dress, holding on to the loose neckline as I shook the blanket off my shoulders.
“It’s just – your brother thought he heard you talking to someone.” Something in her voice told me that this might not have been the first time that James had gotten caught with a girl in his bedroom and I couldn’t help rolling my eyes at his promiscuity and my own stupidity.
“James?” Ginny called out again when her son had failed to reply and we both watched the door handle move downwards slowly.
“Merlin,” James muttered angrily under his breath before turning towards the door, calling back through clenched teeth. “I’m fine, mum!”
Taking advantage of his momentary distraction, I quickly moved towards the window I had come in through and, with my wand wedged in between my teeth, I pushed it open and climbed onto the snowy ledge, slipping down onto the snow-covered ground.
“Seth!” I could hear James hiss behind me but I did not turn around to look at him as I squeezed my eyes shut, focusing with all my might on my grandparents’ house until I finally felt a familiar tug behind my navel, and the darkness swallowing me on the spot.
I barely felt the icy wind as I ran towards the dark building, my dress catching on bushes as it dragged behind me in the snow. After one failed attempt that had taken me to a creepy deserted playground and cost me a strand of hair, I had finally managed to apparate back to my grandparents’ house. Unfortunately, since I had not been able to magic myself straight into my room, I was left to climb the trellis that conveniently snaked up the entire south-wall and all the way up to my bedroom window, which, to my great surprise, wasn’t even closed but left ajar just the slightest bit.
Lacking the time and nerve to question this conspicuous coincidence, I slipped into my room, feeling an unreasonable urge to laugh as I considered the amount of times I had performed this move tonight; maybe I was losing my mind. At least that would have explained why my life was crashing in front of my eyes.
“Where the fuck have you been?”
Vala’s voice startled me and I barely stifled a yelp as I whipped around and found her lounging on my bed with my crumpled, old With Weekly issue lying in her lap.
“What are you doing here?” I demanded as something hot seemed to trickle down my spine. If Vala knew I had been gone, my family might know too.
“How about saving your arse.”
I watched her crawl out of my bed, her hair piled on top of her head and a Maggie’s Magical Blackhead Remover patch plastered across her nose. “Does anyone else know? That I was… gone.”
Vala looked at me for a moment, taking in the creased ball gown, which I was still holding up to my chest like a large towel. For a moment, I felt as though everything about me must have been giving away the unfortunate events of the evening – the way I had made a fool of myself – but, to my surprise, Vala did not ask where I had been. Oddly, she did not appear as though she even wanted to know.
“No, no one knows,” she said slowly. “I’ve pretended to be you all night, sending Trixie and your mum away when they wanted to come in.”
For a second we simply stood there, in the middle of my room, looking at each other as though we both were not exactly sure what to make of this situation. After everything that had happened tonight, I would have never guessed that, in the end, it would be Vala who saved me from getting into even greater trouble.
“Thank you,” I finally said and gave her a small smile.
“You’re welcome.” She returned the smile and then, very quietly, slipped out of my room and softly closed the door behind her.
As soon as I was alone, I let go of my dress, which I had been holding on to like it was a life vest, and discarded it on the floor. The red cloth looked like a pool of blood and I felt like I could not look at it for another second.
Instinctively, I began to pace my room, looking around wildly for something to do; something to make this entire day disappear. It was a useless endeavour, of course, but I felt as though I would go mad if I did not continue searching. Only when my gaze fell onto the small vanity in the corner I finally stopped pacing.
It was barely visible from the far, but as I moved closer to examine the damage, the thin rift was clearly discernable, snaking jaggedly across my grandparents’ priceless antique mirror; the mark my ballpoint pen had left on it just an hour ago.
“Brilliant,” I mumbled to myself as I sank onto the cushioned chair in front of the vanity, staring at the broken glass. “Just brilliant.”
For a moment, I deceived myself that I could actually fix it – that the crack was so small, it would be easy to repair – but without magic, my hopes dwindled rapidly. There was nothing to be done and I could only sit there with resignation and stare at my dishevelled reflection in the damaged mirror.
And suddenly, all I wanted to do was cry.
A/N: First of all, thank you lovlies for all those reviews and reads, it really really means a lot to me! I am sorry for the long wait but it has been a very stressful time for me. My boyfriend had had a really bad accident downhilling with his mountain-bike and he had to go through complicated surgery, which made it impossible for me to sit down and actually write. That is also why it took me so long to answer reviews… I haven’t been on HPFF a lot and during the more difficult days I simply couldn’t get myself to reply right away. I just want you to know that those reviews still made my days and made me smile when I did not feel like smiling.
So, thank you. Really.
I hope you enjoyed the chapter and now that life is looking better again, I will write more frequently again J. Just one last sappy note: Take care and live every day to the fullest… because life really is short and unpredictable and wonderful and crazy and worth every second.