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Stuck in the Middle by TheHeirOfSlytherin

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Format: Novel
Chapters: 20
Word Count: 70,200
Status: WIP

Rating: Mature
Warnings: Contains profanity, Strong violence, Scenes of a sexual nature, Slash (same-sex pairing), Substance abuse, Sensitive topic/issue/theme

Genres: Drama, Humor, Romance
Characters: Harry, Ron, Hermione, Albus, Hugo, James (II), Lily (II), Rose, Scorpius, OC
Pairings: James/OC, Harry/Ginny, Ron/Hermione, OC/OC

First Published: 06/19/2011
Last Chapter: 08/01/2014
Last Updated: 08/01/2014

Summary:
James/Oliver

Banner by charme @ TDA. For apondinabluebox's Complete that Story! Challenge.

It all started when Lily spread the rumor that her brother, James, was gay.
No one thought things would get so crazy, so fast.
And Oliver is stuck in the middle.


Chapter 1: Who are You and What are You Doing in my Brother's Bedroom?
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James opened the front door cautiously and stepped inside, looking left and right to see if anyone was home. “Mum? Dad?”

No answer. He kept the front door close to him as he moved further in. “Albus? Lily?”

Again, no answer. James nodded and pushed the door open the rest of the way. “No one’s home, it’s just us. Come on in.” James moved out of the way to let another boy in. He pushed his light brown hair out of his eyes as he walked into the house, taking in the cream colored wallpaper in the average sized hallway. It wasn't what he was expecting, James could tell and he found it hard to swallow a chuckle. He managed to make it sound like a cough when their eyes met again.

“Nice place,” the boy commented. He took off his jacket and James hung it up on the rack by the fron door.

“Thanks,” James answered. He turned around to see a huge orange stain on the other boy’s previously white t-shirt. “My room’s this way, Oliver. Follow me.” James led Oliver up to his bedroom and pulled open his wardrobe.

Again he watched as Oliver circled the room. It wasn't much better than the hall in terms of extravagance. The walls were his favorite shade of dark blue, but it could hardly be seen due to the many posters he kept, his love of sports and music shown clearly for Oliver to see. It was a good size, big enough to fit in his double bed and maybe even a single at the end, but only if the room was spotless and not cluttered with his things. Organised chaos, James liked to call it when his mother told him to tidy up. Right now he kind of wished he had, but Oliver didn't seem to mind. He didn;t comment on the mess, instead he motioned to the open wardrobe with a small smile, his right cheek curved slightly to reveal a dimple.

“Thanks for doing this, James,” Oliver said. “I don’t think I could have been able to walk all the way to my house looking like this. Talk about embarrassing.”

The boys laughed lightly. “I guess walking into me was your lucky day, even if it did involve getting bright orange pop all over you. Take whichever top you want,” James replied, pointing to his wardrobe. “I’m just going to the bathroom.”

Oliver nodded, “Okay. Oh, James,” he called him back, suddenly looking confused. “Why were you being weird before, as if you were sneaking us into the house?”

James chuckled before clearing his throat, “Erm, my parents don’t like strangers in the house, mainly because of reporters and people selling stories. My dad’s still famous and reporters are still around, looking for information. They’ve grown a little untrusting of anyone who isn’t family or close friends being in the house.”

Oliver just smiled and nodded his head, allowing James to leave. As soon as he heard the click of the lock on the bathroom door, Oliver turned to the wardrobe. He went through each shirt he could find, keeping his back to the door, until he found one reasonable enough to take with him. There were numerous outfits for all occasions all just thrown in and Oliver tried to find one that looked presentable enough to walk around it, but one James wouldn't miss so much until he got it back at school. Hearing the door open he spoke. "Hey, James, will this do?” He pulled out a plain white dress shirt and started to turn around to hold it up. “I know it’s a little dressy, but –“

Oliver stopped, mid-sentence, seeing a red-headed girl staring wide-eyed at him instead of the person he had thought. “You’re not James. You’re Lily, right?”

Lily snapped out of it at the mention of her name and grinned. But instead of answering him, she asked him a question: “Who are you and what are you doing in my brother’s bedroom?” Before Oliver had a chance to answer, James came in, having heard her voice. Lily turned to him. “I knew it! I always knew!” She ran out of the room.

“Lily! Get back here!”

“What did she know, James?” Oliver asked.

James shook his head, “Nothing. The shirt’s fine. Wait here.” He ran after his sister.

“I always told you he was, but you never believed me! Now you can!” he heard Lily say.

James followed her into the kitchen to find the rest of his family circling the breakfast bar, his mum's hand still in a shopping bag. “It is not true!” he told everyone adamantly.

Harry turned to his son and raised an eyebrow. “So there isn’t a topless boy in your room?”

James conceded. “Maybe that bit's true. But it’s not what it looks like, so don't listen to her and her stupid theory.”

“Exactly,” Albus jumped in. “I mean, Scorpius is in my room all the time and you don’t think anything of it. Maybe this topless boy is just a friend.”

“He’s not topless!” James shouted. “Anymore… I think.”

Lily started laughing again. “I always knew it. Where’s the floo powder? I have to tell Hugo!”

“No!” James tried to stop her, but he was too late. He narrowed his eyes at Harry, “I’m going to kill her.”

“Relax, she’s only going to talk to Hugo,” Harry tried to reassure.

“Relax?” James screeched. “She’ll tell Hugo, who will tell Rose, who will her friends, who will tell the school. You know? That place I go back to in two days. I can’t go back there for my seventh year with my own sister's rumors that I’m gay.”

“Why not?” Albus asked. “You’re gone with worse rumors before.”

James ignored him. “It’s just a misunderstanding. I know Oliver from school. We hang out in groups with other people, but we’re not exactly friends; we’ve never actually hung out together. I bumped into him today – literally. I got soda all over his t-shirt and brought him here to get him a clean one because my house was closer than his house. That is it.”

They heard Rose shout from the fire place and James knew nothing could stop the rumor. “Too late now.”

The four Potters all turned to the new voice. “You must be Oliver,” Ginny was the first to answer, smiling. She made her way over and took his hand, welcoming Oliver as though he were a friend of James' she'd met before. It was the first thing James noticed, his mum's reaction. Once she knew a person wasn't after a story, they were pretty much welcome anytime in her eyes and the rest of the family agreed without question because "she was always right." Intuiation she called it. 

“Yes, Mrs Potter,” Oliver smiled back, then dropped his hand. “I couldn’t help but overhear," he cleared his thoat and glanced at James, "from all the shouting I heard fromupstairs… I figured I should just come down.”

“So, Oliver,” Harry spoke, obviously trying to relieve the awkward tension. “Are you a Quidditch fan?”

Everyone looked to Harry, confused by his random question. “Sorry?” Oliver asked.

Harry shrugged his shoulders and leaned against the counter, more awkward than before. “It’s just if you hang out with James, you automatically think Quidditch fan.”

James rolled his eyes while Oliver laughed. “No. In fact I think I’m the only one in the group who isn’t. I don’t mind watching with friends, but I’m not much of a fan and I don’t play, not even for fun. Though, that’s partly because I’m afraid of heights.”

Albus grinned and pointed to him, “I like you. I'm not a very big Quidditch fan and it's pretty much all he talks about.”

“Then you be on the receiving end of Lily’s rumor,” James snapped.

Albus smirked. “No, thank you. I’d rather watch you squirm.”

“Albus!” Ginny snapped. “Get your sister and go upstairs before James pushes you both into the fireplace.”

“Aww, Mum, I wouldn’t do that,” he sighed, then glared. “She’s floo calling; it’s the wrong kind of fire.”

Oliver’s eyes widened a bit and he coughed trying to cover up a laugh, so not to sound rude. “Wow, you’re a little scary when you’re angry. No wonder girls are so afraid to ask you out. And I always thought it was because of your last name.”

Albus ran out of the kitchen as he laughed, so James couldn’t reach him to hit him. He turned around to Oliver. “You’re not helping.”

He narrowed his eyes, confused. “Was I meant to be?” Then he smirked and James knew he was joking.

“Oliver, how long have you been in England for?” Ginny asked, distracting James. “I can tell by your accent you’re not from around here.”

“I moved from Florida when I was thirteen. I transferred from Salem to Hogwarts in January, third year,” Oliver explained. He glanced at his watch. “I should be going. James, I’ll give you back your shirt at Hogwarts. It won’t be too hard; we do share a dorm.” James groaned, thinking about the rumor Rose was going spread thanks to Lily. “It was nice meeting you,” He nodded to Harry and Ginny. “I promise there won’t be any gossip about you in the papers.” He winked to James. “Bye.”

James followed him out the door. “Thank you again for the shirt, James. And I’m sorry this accident caused your sister to think you were gay.”

James shrugged. “Not your fault. She's been saying I am for the last two years. I always knew she'd use something eventually, I just hoped it would be after Hogwarts. People can talk about me all they want, I just don't like hearing it. It's hard not to when you're all in one place."

Oliver nodded; he understood what rumors could do. Even James had said something about him when he'd first started Hogwarts, but he'd grown up, was no longer saying thing about anyone. Others hadn't.

“One thing confuses me,” Oliver spoke after a moment.

“What?”

Oliver looked him in the eye. “When your brother said ‘Maybe this topless boy is just a friend’, you only denied I was topless. You didn’t stop the insinuation of me being more than a friend. I didn’t even know I was your friend, let alone more.” He noticed James’ cheeks were a little pink. “Just a thought, Potter. Just a thought.”



A/N: New banner, new motivation, hopefully a new chapter soon. But, for now, yay for edits, I think. :)

Sam.


Chapter 2: Need That Picture of You
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James stood by the entrance to platform nine and three quarters, a little away from his family. He leaned casually against the wall, resting his foot against the bricks, with the hood of his dark jacket over his head, just showing his fringe. He glared at his uncle Ron through his dark sunglasses. “Will you stop staring at me?”

Ron flushed, embarrassed and clearly feeling awkward. “It’s nothing to be ashamed of if it’s true.”

James sighed angrily, “How many times do I have to tell you that it’s not true before you all decide believe me? It’s. Not. True.”

Lily snickered. “That’s not what Witch Weekly says.”

James narrowed his eyes in his sister’s direction, though she couldn’t see because of the sunglasses. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Nothing,” Harry spoke quickly.

“Show me.” Lily happily obliged to her brother’s demand. She took the magazine from her bag and handed it to him. On the cover was him and Oliver; it started with them bumping into each other, to James taking Oliver’s arm. He had to admit; they were extremely close to one another. If it had been two different people, James would have thought the same thing. He paled at the thought.

His and Oliver’s close proximity unnerved him; how had he not realised at the time how compromising their position would look?

He roughly handed Lily back her magazine. “It doesn’t mean anything,” he denied. “It’s not true. Why did none of you tell me about it?” He was confused by the way Lily was still smirking.

“We were worried about your reaction, sweetie,” Hermione answered honestly, looking a little guilty. “You’re not exactly taking this well.”

James looked around the platform; every so often someone would look his way and laugh or a guy would wink. Whether or not they were joking, he couldn’t tell. He sincerely hoped they were. He turned back to his aunt. “Would you?”

“Seen the magazine yet, James?” Scorpius asked, smirking, as he walked past them. “It really makes you think, doesn’t it?”

For once, James had nothing to say. Malfoy was right; it was making people think. Not that he’d admit that. Instead, he pushed his sunglasses up, said good bye and left his family on the platform to get on the train. He made his way to an empty compartment at the back of the train. He locked it, sank back into the couch and sighed. Finally alone, he pulled down his hood and took off the sunglasses. He wasn’t exactly sure why he wore them; people still knew it was him. His dad had made a comment about him trying to be invisible. James had replied that he wouldn’t need them to act invisible if his father had given him the cloak like he had asked.

It felt like forever for the train to leave, but instead of feeling the usual signs of impatience, James was glad. The longer it felt like, the further away the rumor seemed; as if it was a dream he couldn’t quite remember. He closed his eyes, enjoying the first bit of peace and quiet he had since this started. But it didn’t last long.

The click of a camera startled James and he sat up quickly. He let out a sigh of relief when he saw it was just Oliver; someone who understood exactly what he was going through right now. “For a second, I thought a reporter had gotten onto the train,” he smiled a little. “New camera?”

“Yeah,” Oliver nodded. “How did you know?”

James shrugged, “You’re always carrying a camera with you. This one is different to the one you had during sixth year.”

“Right,” Oliver replied, not knowing whether to be pleased that James actually noticed something about him or dejected because of why. Though he wouldn’t tell him that. James didn’t notice his conflict of emotions. “So…” Oliver started. He wanted to say something about the situation they were in, but the thought of seeing James angry because of it made Oliver hesitate; he didn't want to be near an angry James Potter.

James raised an eyebrow. “So…?”

“Have you seen the article?” he rushed and James had to ask him to repeat slowly.

“I only saw the cover,” he answered honestly. “But if Witch Weekly has a cover, I’m not surprised they wrote something, too.”

“Witch Weekly?” Oliver asked, confused. “I was talking about The Daily Prophet.”

James shook his head slowly. “They wrote something aswell?” Was that why his family were looking so guilty? They hid that from him as well? He knew now why Lily was still smirking. Why didn’t she tell him? “Do you have it?”

“No,” he said. “Sarah does, though. You can read it at the feast if you really want to or when you’re in the common room. It basically just talks about us being ‘secret lovers in a forbidden romance’, asking if I’m only with you because you’re a Potter, did your parents even know you were gay. It’s nothing really. They’re very interested to know who I am and your father's reaction, not so much you.”

"You're a new story and they like that, but we're not important to them really. Dad won't give them what they want, though," he said, sounding more like a broken record. Oliver felt he was beginning to understand a little bit more about why James' reaction to the press hadn't effected him as much as his family or the mention of school had. He didn't care about the press. James pushed his head back against the couch, his eyes shut tight, and groaned. “This is why I don’t do good deeds. I still get in trouble.”

Oliver rolled his eyes, but couldn’t help the slightly hurt look on his face. He was glad James couldn’t see him. “I wouldn’t exactly call this trouble. Inconvenient maybe, but not trouble.”

James scoffed, not moving. “I can’t believe that I’m not even surprised that Lily would do this to me. I would never do something like this.”

Oliver couldn’t help himself; he laughed. “I beg to differ.”

Now, James sat up. “What are you talking about?”

“January, third year, I started Hogwarts and I didn’t know anybody. So I kept to myself,” Oliver started. “After a few days, people were asking why I was so quiet and instead of anyone asking me, you told them it was because I was half and half and didn’t want people to know!”

James turned red and gulped. “I am so sorry; I completely forgot I did that. I think I blocked it out along with them memory of you screaming at me and punching me in the face… Which is now coming back.” He narrowed his eyes at Oliver. “You know, I don’t think I deserved all that.”

“You told people I half boy and half girl!”

James held out his hands in surrender, “Okay, maybe I did.”

They stared at each other with serious expressions for only five seconds before Oliver started laughing, followed by James. “Well, well.” They looked up at the door. “Look at this, guys, it’s Hogwarts’ favourite new couple.” Scorpius moved to the side to allow Rose and Albus to see.

“Maybe it is true,” Albus mused. “I couldn’t truly believe it until now.”

“Wow, I keep forgetting that you three are best friends,” Oliver exclaimed in mock excitement. “And it’s only ever the three of you. Are you trying to be the next Golden Trio? Let me guess, Malfoy,” he laughed. “You and Rose are the next Ron and Hermione. It’s too bad you don’t have a sister for Albus, but you do have a cousin.”

He winked at Albus then turned to James. “Oh, wait. That can’t happen. A Malfoy doesn’t fit into that equation; it would never work!”

Scorpius lost his smile and sneered before walking away. Albus couldn’t help but smirk; he never expected that from Oliver. “Harsh, Ford.”

“Maybe I spend way too much time with your brother,” Oliver answered, looking a little guilty. “I’ll apologise to him later, it’s just getting annoying that’s all.”

Albus shrugged, “Don’t worry about it. Scor’s a big boy, he’ll get over it.”

“Still…” They both nodded and Albus left.

“How do you spend way too much time with me?” James asked. “We hardly spoke to each other till now.”

“We still hung out as a group,” he told him. “Just because we didn’t talk, doesn’t mean I wasn’t there.”

They sat in silence for a while and James couldn’t help but wonder how comfortable it was, how comfortable he was with Oliver. Why weren't we friends from the beginning? 

***

The first years had been sorted and the start of year feast had begun. Noise filled the hall; laughter, shouting, eating, drinking. James felt good to be back. He looked around the hall one more time before turning back to his plate. Across from him was Oliver, who was sitting next to Sarah Walsh, his best friend since he had started in third year. She had been the one to stick up for him when he first came to school and James had spread the rumor. It was her who told Oliver to talk to him. James heard that they were so close because they were both Muggleborn, but he suspected it was something more than that, or, at least, besides that.

“So, Oliver,” he said, deciding to act on his thought of him actually becoming his friend by getting to know him. “Why do you always carry a camera with you?”

Oliver took the camera from his pocket and took a picture of him, “Because I want to be a photographer. One day I’ll be the one taking pictures of you, getting all the juicy gossip. Unfortunately, that way I won’t get as big a part in your life as I am now.” He winked at him and Sarah starting laughing.

Maybe I don’t want to be his friend after all, he thought. But James could tell he was only joking. “Shame,” he answered instead, playing along. He balanced his elbow on the table and cupped his chin in his hand. “I’ve been seeing you in a whole new light since I saw that picture in Witch Weekly this morning; the way we were, the feel of your hand in mine. The thought of being with you is so…” he sighed.

Everyone around them turned to Oliver wanting to know what he’d do next. He watched James as he felt his cheeks go hotter and could see that James was trying not to laugh. He wouldn’t give him the satisfaction. Oliver took another picture before James had a chance to move. “It will forever be known that James Sirius Potter tried to seduce me today.” The other housemates starting laughing again. James groaned, disappointed he didn’t get the reaction he had been hoping for. “Don’t mess with me, Potter, you know what will happen.” He put his hand into a fist and wiped it on his robes, pretending he was polishing it.

James scoffed, “That was so lame. How old are you?”

Oliver stood up, “About the same age as you. No one says lame anymore.” He rolled his eyes dramatically and started to leave, Sarah following. "And before you get the wrong idea, no, I don't actually plan on being the one taking your picure when you go on to play Quidditch professionally, like you think you will. I want to be a professional photographer."

***

“Did you see?” Sarah shouted when they were alone in the Gryffindor common room. “James was watching you leave.”

“So?”

“'So'? What do you mean ‘so'?” she asked. “James Potter doesn’t watch anyone leave! This rumor could be so good for you two. You’ll finally get your guy!”

Oliver stopped her from saying any more. “James is not my guy. He’s not even gay.”


A/N:
Edited. For now. Let me know what you think? :)

Sam.


Chapter 3: Explanations and Fan-Girl Moments
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The alarm clock rang noisily and Oliver slammed his hand down on top, silencing it, before turning to lie on his stomach. He pulled his bed sheets up over his head, blocked out the sounds of his room mates getting up, ready and dressed, and tried to go back to sleep.

Oliver groaned when his covers were pulled back, exposing his bare back. He shivered lightly, the morning breeze hitting him. "Get up, Ford! You're gonna be late!"

"Leave him, Tuck," he heard James call. His bed rocked slightly and he heard James' friend groan loudly; James had pushed him into the bed, he guessed.

"Watch it, Potter," Oliver growled. He ignored the breeze crawling across his skin and dug his hand into the fabric of his bed sheets, falling back asleep.

Just as he started to doze off, he heard someone enter the room again. "Your friend, Walsh, is just outside the door. She said she knows you hate potions, but if you don't get up now she'll come in and get you herself and after she's done, no one will be talking about our rumor for a while." Oliver jumped up and narrowed his eyes at the oldest Potter, who let out a soft chuckle. "She said that you'd understand. No offense, but I kind of hope you don't get out of bed. I really want to know what she means."

Oliver swung his legs to the side and stood up stiffly, glaring at the boy who had currently become the bane of his existance. He ignored James as he grabbed his uniform from the top of his trunk, which he had placed there the night before for days like this, and made his way to the bathroom for a quick wash and to get changed. He thanked God he remembered to get a shower the night before; he was later than usual, judging from Sarah's shouting.

He dressed quickly, fixed his collar and tie and made sure his shirt didn't stick out of his jumper before leaving the bathroom. He could no longer hear Sarah and he assumed she had just left for the Great Hall to get their class schedules, which didn't surprise him. What did surprise the boy was that Potter was still standing by the door. He kept his back to him as he put on his cloak, feeling the brunet's eyes on his back, studying him.

"You're not a morning person, are you?" he asked finally.

The awkwardness Oliver felt had lifted, the pressure of being stared at gone, and he turned around, his eye-brows raised. "It depends on the day," he answered. "Some days I'm up before anyone else. But we share a dorm for four years and only when we enter seventh year, you start to notice?"

"We rarely spoke to each other," James stated matter-of-factly. "Why would I care?" He shrugged casually, unaware of the effect of his words, and left the room, as if proving that point still stood; he didn't care.

Oliver swallowed the lump that began to form in his throat, shaking off the feeling of rejection he knew he shouldn't be feeling. Maybe he'd only imagined them getting to know each other yesterday, maybe he'd misunderstood the boy, maybe he didn't want to be friends after all. He grabbed his bag and camera and followed the direction James had taken, forgetting his insecurities.

What he had said was true; Potter had only been stating a fact, he had to remember that. Oliver made his way quickly down the stairs and into the common room, sidestepped a first year girl and left Gryffindor Tower, inwardly groaning when he saw that James and his friend was in front of him. Oliver continued to walk, hoping they'd ignore him, but the friend grabbed his arm and pulled him to his side, so he was between Oliver and James.

"So, Ford, what's it like being around a celebrity?"

Oliver raised an eye-brow. "Potter is hardly a celebrity, at least not in my eyes."

He grinned. "Please, I was talking about me."

"This is why no one else talks to you, Tucker," James told him, rolling his eyes. He pushed himself to the side, forcing Tucker to release his arm from James' shoulder. Oliver took that moment to do the same, stepping closer to the wall to put distance between them. "Just ignore him, Ford. Tuck's been saying that everyday since he could speak, just because his dad works in the Muggle film industry."

"I do listen to what people say around here," Oliver replied, rolling his eyes, too. "I'm neither deaf nor invisible."

He continued to walk away, ignoring the friends' confused looks. Maybe he had sounded a little too bitter, but nothing he had said had been wrong; he knew exactly what people said, was friends with a few of those people and more, so why were they telling him things now? As though he was the new kid and they were trying to include him and make him feel welcome at school. They hadn't done that in Third Year, Sarah had. What was going on with them? With James? Why did Sarah have to choose this morning to leave him to walk to the Great Hall alone?

Was he wrong to feel bitter about feeling as though he'd gone from being treated like nothing before, to now suddenly worthy of their attention?

Oliver shook his head once; it felt good, as though he was actually clearing his mind of negative thoughts, but he didn't want to seem like he was crazy if people saw him. James could do as he liked, he always had really, and he probably didn't even realize how Oliver was taking it. He could talk to Oliver one day and go back to ignoring him the next, that was just how James was and Oliver didn't hate him for it. Sometime he and Sarah joked that James had the attention span of a goldfish, and they debated if it was due to one too many bludgers to the head or if they should have listened to Lucy Weasley last year when she said he'd been like that since birth.

When Oliver and Sarah thought about it, they wondered why he liked the oldest Potter son to begin with. "The heart wants what the heart wants," his best friend would frequently tell him. "The saying is there for a reason."

He held back a scoff; students had started to make their way to the hall, too, with James and Tucker Matthews not far behind him. He entered quickly, pushing through a group of giggling girls who'd noticed his arrival, and found Sarah. She waited until he was sat down next to her before handing him his class schedule and a piece of toast. "Thank you," he said between mouthfuls and scanned through his timetable for the day. He groaned loud enough for people to look up; Sarah hadn't been lying, they had Potions first. How had she known that?

His head snapped up when his schedule was snatched from his hands and James sat beside him, looking over it. What the hell?

"You must really hate Potions. Why?"

"Because I suck at it," Oliver told him honestly. "I'm barely passing."

"It is difficult, you need to be absolutely exact, so you don't make an entirely different potion or make it explode," James said, looking serious, as though he'd given a lot of thought to his answer, but he was enthusiastic at the same time. He liked it. Oliver already knew that. "But once you've really got that down, you can pretty much make any potion."

He handed the parchment back and grabbed breakfast of his own, while Oliver sat and stared, part of him wondering if that was actually true or if he had just said that because he was naturally good at the subject and thought it was true. His eyes were narrowed slightly while he tried to figure the boy out, but nothing came to mind. He didn't ask until James wanted to know what was wrong. "You're in a better mood than yesterday," he pointed out, trying not to sound suspicious. He had no idea why he sounded suspicious really, being in a good mood was not a crime, but James hadn't taken the last few days very well. So, why now?

"I've decided not to let it get to me," he said brightly, once he'd swallowed a bit of egg. "It looked bad, but we know the truth and our friends do and that's all that matters. We can get past this, who cares about everyone else?"

"I'm pretty sure those were my words last night," Tucker jumped in.

James waved a hand. "Whatever. Just be thankful I've decided to take your advice; it's not something I do often." He turned back to Oliver, whose expression quickly changed from suspicious to surprised. What did this mean? "And I think we could be good friends."

"You do?" Oliver choked out, surprise now turning to shock. Sarah nudged him in the back and he swatted her hand away as discreetly as he could, not wanting to see her smug face now or later.

"Yeah. We practically hang out already, because of our shared friends, but now we can talk to each other. Don't you?" James asked slowly and for a moment, Oliver thought he saw disappointment in his eyes. His face, however, remained passive.

"Maybe," he shrugged. "Depends on how Quidditch obsessed you really are."

James laughed out loud, a long, throaty chuckle that made his chest move up and down noticeably and everyone want to join in. So Oliver did. "Well, my dream job is to play professionally. I'm sure that could give you an idea."

Oliver pretended to think about it, wishing James would laugh again, just because he loved to hear it. And he started to remember why he liked him, despite all of their differences and their first impression years ago. But he still hated the saying... "Our friendship will definitely have to stay in the maybe pile until I can get past that then," he finally said, though his responding smile told James he was only joking. Quidditch, though he'd never understand it, he could actually enjoy watching. It was flying that he hated. Just the thought made him nauseous. That put him off watching.

"I'll just have to find a way to get you past it," James grinned. "Until then, we have a Potions lesson to get through."

"We do," Oliver agreed, nodding and only slightly happy about this new friendship arrangement, he didn't want James to notice anything that could ruin it, and being able to spend at least the morning with him. Then he frowned. The morning? "We do?"

James laughed again, more at him this time, and it was quieter; Oliver wasn't sure he liked it as much. "We're in the same class this year," he smiled. "Maybe now your pass might not be a 'barely'."

He gave a quick good bye to his friend, who'd been watching in amusement, and started to walk away. Oliver was quickly reminded of his joke that James' concentration lacked; he was walking away as though his words about being friends had never been mentioned. But then he stopped at the door, pushed his dark hair back in a way that made Oliver want to sigh like a lovestruck fan-girl who'd just met her idol, and frowned. "Are you two coming or not?"

It took him longer than he would have liked to remember that Sarah was also in his class and that James had been speaking to both of them. She pushed him forwards and they walked the way to the dungeons together, Sarah asking James class-related questions while Oliver caught eyes with everyone who watched them walking, until he couldn't take it any more. "Maybe I should hang back a little," he muttered.

James finally noticed and shook his head, pulling on the boy's arm until they were side-by-side. "Maybe you still need to get over what happened?" he asked quietly. "I feel like I've made it worse by overreacting, I'm sorry for that. I really shouldn't have, Lily is always doing stuff like this. Last year, she told everyone that Al wore pink underwear just because someone accidentally put a red t-shirt in with the white washing. For weeks girls were trying to get a look, but they all forgot about it pretty quickly soon after." Oliver nodded once in agreement; he remembered that. "With us, all they can really see is that we hang out, which we technically did anyway. Now we will talk to each other when we'll be in our group, that's all. This will all blow other soon."

"If you knew all of this, then why did you freak out so much?" Sarah asked curiously.

James went a little pale, but swallowed and shrugged. "I had a bad relationship experience. My ex is a little bitter. Anyone talking about my relationships is a bit of a sore spot, that's all. No matter what it is about."

Oliver's eyes narrowed hearing his words. Melanie Randell had been James' only relationship in school and had lasted for a couple of years before their breakup at the beginning of summer. She was mental, in his opinion. Not clingy or possessive in an obvious way, but she'd had this way about her that told you to back off whenever she caught you within speaking distance of James. The rumor was that James had left her, though no one actually knew why. But she still gave people 'that look'; Oliver had felt her eyes burn into his back all through dinner, though he hadn't given her the satisfaction of her knowing he'd acknowledged her look or that it had gotten to him.

Once or twice, Oliver wondered why he'd finally dumped her. He'd even considered listening to the mass of rumors and try to figure out which would most likely be true. He always decided against it quickly; he didn't like rumors and it was none of his business.

Rumors; why where they always how trouble started in this school?

"Fair enough," Oliver heard Sarah answer him. But they left it there and found their way to class. Or 'Ollie's Personal Hell' as Sarah liked to call it. "Keep your jealousy in check," she whispered in his ear, letting him see her smirk and wink before she entered.

Crap, she'd noticed. Had James? That thought made him more nauseous than flying. 



A/N: Oh, my... What is this? A new chapter for Stuck in the Middle? *pinches self* Nope, not dreaming, it's actually here, for y'all to enjoy. And I hope you do enjoy. Fingers crossed updates become more regular, although I have just started college again, so we'll have to see.

Please let me know what you think. :)

Sam.

Chapter 4: Threats and Payback Plans
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Oliver snapped his head up quickly, hearing students around him move about the classroom, and he sat up straighter. He'd feared he'd fall asleep again, and while the idea sounded appealing now, he knew it would come back to bite him on the ass when he took his NEWTs at the end of the year. If he kept this up, he'd never pass History of Magic, never mind Potions. Oliver checked the corners of his mouth distcreetly, a habit he'd picked up after Sarah had joked about him drooling (she'd been talking about him watching James in lessons, but what if he was ever caught while sleeping? That would be embarrassing, too).

Oliver stood up, packed his school bag and walked out of the classroom, ignoring Ryan's snickering completely. Ryan Marsh was a Slytherin Chaser and a part of the 'group', friends with both Oliver and James. He was always afraid that Ryan knew something when they caught each other's eye; he'd give him sly wink, like he'd been watching him and knew, and then he'd turn away. It made Oliver uncomfortable, but neither one ever said anything, which comforted him a little - wouldn't Ryan speak to him if he knew? - and he was a good friend. Until he laughed at Oliver after History of Magic. It was a class they shared, and the only one he had with neither James nor Sarah.

...Maybe they had the right idea.

But Oliver was interested in History of Magic, it was as close to a Muggle lesson as a subject in this school was ever going to get, and part of him missed that life. History had been one of his favorite subjects. He wondered more than once what it would have been like if he'd not accepted being a wizard or never been one at all, but those thoughts disappeared just as quickly. Despite a few bumps in the road, he loved his life, both in Salem and in Hogwarts, learning magic with his friends and having his family's support in everything. Although, he knew there would always be a part he'd loathe more than anything; he hated Potions just as much as he had hated Chemistry.

History of Magic would be better if their ghost teacher wasn't so dull, the dead man's voice put him to sleep, or if Ryan would stop laughing at the end of every lesson. Why do I sit next to this boy again?

"Good first day, Oliver?" Ryan asked pleasantly, a hint of a chuckle still on his lips. In a moment of childishness, Oliver rolled his eyes and continued to walk, ignoring him completely. It wouldn't last, he knew, but it would annoy Ryan enough to be satisfactory revenge. "Oh, come on, Ol," he whined. "I have to ask; you went back to Florida for summer, I've hardly seen you till now."

"Potions mainly consisted of going through what we'd be studying first and the homework is researching the potion for next lesson." He answered his friend's question as though neither his friend's whining nor his childish pretense had ever happened, and ignored Ryan mutter that he was there in Potions and he knew all of that. "Since I didn't have to make anything and I'm not failing my other classes which makes me enjoy them, it's been a good first day. How was yours?"

"Good. And your summer?"

Oh. He knew what Ryan was trying to talk about now. And he also knew how to distract him, if only for a few minutes. James may have found a way to accept it and Oliver was able to ignore completely in public, but alone, when he only had his thoughts and those stupid feelings for the boy, he didn't think he was ready to talk about it yet. "Summer was great, Ry, you should have come. We went to Orlando, to the theme parks."

"That sounds like so much fun," he replied, feigning sadness. Very well, he had to add silently. "And, er, how are you and James? You seemed okay this morning at breakfast."

Damn, that didn't last long.

Oliver shrugged as they continued to walk along the corridor, they would reach the stairs soon enough and Oliver would go up to Gryffindor, while Ryan went downstairs to Slytherin. This conversation wouldn't last long. "We're okay," he answered finally. "He's found a way to ignore it, he said Lily does this all the time."

"And you?"

There it was again, that look. Oliver hated it. "I'm fine," he said as nonchalantly as he could, not wanting Ryan to notice anything wrong. "It's just a stupid rumor and it'll all blow over soon enough."

Ryan nodded and smiled, nudging Oliver with his elbow. "Okay then."

"Aren't you Slytherins supposed to be all mean and tough?" he joked. "Why are you being all nice and supportive?"

"Because you're my friend. And no one is around to see me be nice and supportive," Ryan added, smirking. "But if you tell anyone, you might just find yourself in the hospital wing," he winked.

Oliver nudged him back until it became a sort of game to see who could push the other further. It lasted until they got to the stairs. "America!"

Oliver turned to the new voice and glared; he hated the nickname some people still called him. Then he saw who it was and froze. "Randell," he muttered eventually.

Melanie stepped forward, like a lioness stalking her prey, and stopped in front of him. She turned her icy gaze to Ryan. "You good here, Ol? Yeah? Great. I have to go."

"Ryan, get back here," Oliver called out to his friend's retreating back, not caring that the crazy girl in front of him knew that he didn't want to be alone with her. "Coward! We are no longer friends! What do you want, Melanie?"

"What game are you trying to play with James?"

Despite his hatred for the girl in front of him, both for known and unknown reasons, Oliver couldn't help but laugh at her question, which seemed to be the most idiotic thing he'd ever heard her say. That she could actually think he'd risk his secrets to get to James, that he'd play some game with a guy who had a psycho for an ex-girlfriend? It was the funniest thing he'd ever heard. He could love Janes for the rest of his life, and he'd never do anything to act on those feelings.

Because he knew that James would never feel the same. And he was okay with that.

"What's so funny?" Melanie demanded to know, glaring. Her eyes darkened and she looked as cold as he had imagined her to be.

But he already suspected that of her, so it didn't stop his smile, even though it did falter slightly. "You. Are you so obsessed with Potter that you actually believe those rumors?"

Melanie leaned in, almost menacingly. Oliver had to force himself not to step back and keep looking her in the eye, his smile gone completely now. "I've seen the way you look at him. I'm not stupid, Ford. I wonder how James would take that."

Oliver tutted, shaking his head despite his growing fear; is she telling the truth? Does she really know? He hid his thoughts and swallowed his emotions, all but one; hate. It was enough to make anyone do crazy things."I really don't respond well to threats, Melanie. Makes me a little mad, if I'm honest. Who knows what I might do."

"What do you mean?" Oliver shrugged his shoulders, feigning innocence easily. She lost her calm, cold demeanor for a moment, but it was long enough for him to realize that she didn't know him as much as she thought she did; she had no idea what he could do. The revelation made his bluff easier to follow through with.

This could be fun.

"What are you going to do, Ford?"

It was Oliver's turn to lean forward, his lips pressed as close to her ear as he could stomach without touching her. "I'm going to see your ex." He moved back, his smile returning. "He wants to be friends, you know."

Then he walked away, leaving her alone in the corridor, more angry than he'd ever seen a person. He knew she'd most likely keep a closer eye on him now than she would have before, but Oliver decided he would just cross that bridge when he came to it. Maybe he'd even tell James what had happened, once he knew for sure that messing with her wouldn't cause any consequences for him and James since he knew the boy wanted nothing to do with her. If James didn't completely hate the idea of getting back at Melanie Randell, he might even play along to an extent.

That thought had Oliver walking away, a new spring in his previously exhausted step. Getting to be with James Potter while bringing Hogwarts enemy number one down a peg or two; what could be better than that?

Nothing could bring my good mood down now...

***

Oliver's good mood didn't last.

After his run-in with Melanie, he went straight to Gryffindor without hassle from anyone. Once inside, he stopped. The common room went quiet the moment they'd seen him, and they had seen him quickly, like they'd been watching the door specifically for him. He took hesitant steps forward, his eyes each meeting each student; they looked away, not returning his gaze.

Something was very wrong.

"What's up?" he asked nervously.

"It was an accident," one of his roommates answered softly.

That was all he needed to say. Oliver pushed past the remaining students and darted up the stairs, taking them two at a time, until he reached his dorm room. He froze mid-step once he reached the open door, unable to believe his eyes; on his bed was his camera from last year, which hasn't been there when he'd left that morning. He was almost afraid to look, the feeling of dread burning in the pit of his stomach a clear indication that something really was very wrong. He took a step forward, then another, until finally he was at his bedside.

Oliver took his new camera out of his pocket and placed it gently onto his bedside table, then he picked up his one from last year. The lens was cracked, practically gone, the front and back was covered in scratches and the string that was meant to wrap around his wrist had come off, was put on the bed.

Someone had dropped his camera.

Oliver sat down slowly, not quite able to believe that this could have happened. His cameras were always locked away in his trunk, no one should have been able to get in except for Sarah and she knew to be careful. He felt like someone had come over, surprised him and punched him in the gut. His camera was close to being ruined.

"Hey."

Oliver's head snapped up to find James standing by the doorway. "Hey," he muttered back.

James slowly moved across to sit next to him. "Roxy said that Brian asked around for a Charms textbook to copy up notes he'd missed," he explained gently. "Sarah couldn't find hers, but said you'd be okay with him lending yours as long as you were told as soon as you got back. She unlocked your trunk for him. He found the book, but your camera came with it when he pulled it out and it fell onto the floor. He's really sorry, he's hiding right now apparently."

"It's just a camera," Oliver whispered.

"No, it's not," James replied gently. "You carry your cameras everywhere, you're always taking pictures talking about photography. We all how much you love your cameras." He took it from Oliver's hands and Oliver let him without a word. James wondered if he was in shock, but chose not to comment on it. "It's a few scratches, maybe we can repair it, like when my aunt repairs my dad's glasses because he can never remember the stupidly simple spell. Should we try?"

Oliver finally turned to look at him, the eye roll a clear message to stop talking to him as though he were a child. James knew that was the message, only because he knew Oliver would never say no to fixing his camera. He knew that much about his new friend at least. Eventually, he nodded. His frown was his only indication that he didn't have much hope.

James removed his wand from his inside pocket, ignoring Oliver's doubt, and pointed at the camera, muttering the 'Reparo' spell. One by one, the scratches disappeared and James held it out to him with a triumphant grin.

"Take a picture," Oliver said quietly. "Not of me."

Confused, James held up the camera to see the dorm's door through the screen and pressed the button. Even James could tell that the noise it made was not one it was supposed to and the image on the screen looked distorted. The look on Oliver's face confirmed it. "You fixed the outside, but the inside is still damaged. I'll take it to the shop when we finish for Christmas," he said, taking the camera back and putting it safely away in his trunk. "Brain doesn't have to hide, I'm not mad. Even I've had accidents and dropped my cameras. It's just -"

"Just what?" James prompted.

"It's stupid, but I feel like this wouldn't have happened if I hadn't spoken to Melanie Randell. It's like every time I do something, bad luck seems to follow."

"You spoke to Melanie?" James asked. He knew that would be the thing Potter would pick up on.

He nodded. "She doesn't like the articles about us, she wanted to know what game I was playing. She threatened me. I didn't like that. I left her in the corridor after I told her I was leaving to see you, which is kind of true," he said, gesturing to the boy. They were talking and therefore seeing each other.

"You're messing with her head, aren't you?"

Oliver held up his thumb and forefinger, putting them close together so only a small gap was between them. "maybe a little."

He watches James for his reaction. "Strangely, I'm okay with that. As long as I don't have to play a key role."

"It'll mostly be sly comments and the occasional dig over the fact that you dumped her and would rather be my friend than hers. I know she wants more, but I'm going to go with friend," he assured, changing his mind now that he'd had to think through his earlier plan. Getting back at her was definitely not worth risking his secrets. "You did dumb her, right?" James promised he did. "Then you don't have to be involved; she threatened me, not you."

"I can't believe I'm actually going to say this, but have fun," James said, grinning. Then he turned serious. "Be careful. She's not always worth it."

"Knocking the bitch of her broom will definitely be worth it," Oliver said with such confidence that James almost believed him. "I know you're only letting me because you don't know how to deal with people when they're sad and you'll probably try to stop me tomorrow, but thank you. I feel better now."

"I'm glad," James said sincerely. "I'll see you at dinner, yeah?"

"Yeah."

James left him alone, closing the door behind him, and Oliver fell backwards and crawled upwards to lie on his bed. Sleep was catching up with him again and it seemed like the perfect way to end a bad afternoon. He closed his eyes, intending on taking a quick nap till dinner.

He never went to dinner; James found him still asleep on his stomach, his hand curled underneath his head. His mouth was parted into a small 'O' shape and every so often a light snore escaped him.

James couldn't help but think that Oliver looked kind of adorable.

Not that he'd ever tell him that. 



A/N: New chapter. Sorry for the long wait. I'm on the verge of planning the chapters for this story, so hopefully the next wait won't be so long. Let me know what you think. :)

Sam.


Chapter 5: Official Friendship Photos
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Oliver kept the curtains close to him open through the night, so while the rest of the dorm was dark, moonlight lit up the corner between his and James' beds. It was late, close to four am, and Oliver was still wide awake. He lay on his stomach and stretched out his hand, used the light to make shadows and puppets on the floor. He blamed the light for keeping him awake, but he knew really that it was because he couldn't switch his brain off; he couldn't stop thinking about what he'd said to Melanie and his camera being broken being bad karma he didn't think he deserved.

It didn't make him want to get up and shut the curtains, though; he'd loved that camera, his parents had saved quite a bit of money to get it for him, so he'd take the punishment whether he thought he deserved it or not.

Slowly, once he felt his arm start to ache, Oliver dropped his hand and relaxed it by his side, his eyes finding their way back to his clock. He groaned; he considered it a little too late to try and get some sleep, but way too early to get up and ready. Which meant all he could do was lie in bed and wait, feeling time drag so it felt like much longer. Oliver tried to focus on the positives: maybe if he stayed awake during the day, he'd be able to crash straight after his last lesson. He'd just have to remember to set an alarm or have someone wake him for dinner.

Oliver looked away from the clock, his eyes wondering the dark room, until he finally allowed himself to stop at James' bed. His roommate seemed to be asleep, he could barely see the steady rise and fall of the boy's chest, and his head was facing away from him, so Oliver couldn't see his eyes. He looked so peaceful, relaxed, and Oliver wanted so much to touch him, to feel his heartbeat beneath his hand and his lips on the pulse at James' neck.

Karma's an evil bitch.

He didn't notice James turn to look at him. "Can't sleep?" he whispered.

Oliver jumped, causing James to laugh softly, and shook his head. "No," he answered. "You?"

James scratched his chest, just over his heart, where Oliver had wished he'd been able to touch moments before, and sat up slowly. "I was. I gotta pee."

Oliver couldn't help the chuckle that escaped him and he clamped his hand over his mouth as James put a finger to his lips, using his other hand to point to their still sleeping roommates.

"So blunt," Oliver said quietly, turning to watch him leave. James winked and continued on his way to the bathroom.

Oliver lay on his stomach again, his eyes on James' empty bed, and waited for his crush to come back. Even if James would never be with him the way he wanted the boy to be, he still liked the idea of being his friend and friends talked to each other during times like this, didn't they? He and Sarah did when she stayed over during the holidays, when he came back from Florida, but it was rare for him to still be up at this time and Sarah would usually have to keep him awake if she wanted to talk to him.

In the silence, Oliver heard the chain flush and the sounds of James' footsteps as he came back into the dorm and into bed. He took a similar position to Oliver, lying on his stomach to face him. He smiled briefly, just a slight curve of the lips, and shut his eyes.

"Why can't you sleep?"

Oliver shrugged, only to remember that James couldn't see him anymore. "I don't know, nothing specific. I just can't shut my brain off."

"That sucks," James muttered. "I like sleep."

"I know you do, I've shared a dorm with you since third year," he replied. "You talk in your sleep, mumble. Do you know that you do that?" James nodded once. "Do you dream?"

"Lots of times," he whispered, drifting off again, and Oliver knew he'd be asleep again any minute. "You?"

"Yeah," he said, his head filling with memories of dreams he could remember.

"What do you dream about?"

Oliver opened his mouth, then snapped it shut quickly, having no idea what to say to answer that. He didn't want to be too vague in case James decided to ask more questions, but he couldn't tell him the truth. He didn't need to worry, though; the sound of James' light snoring left him free to answer the question without James actually hearing him.

"You."

***

The alarm rang loudly, rousing Oliver from his peaceful sleep and forcing him to open his eyes. He did for a minute, then squeezed them shut and stretched out a hand to turn it off, only for another to do so before him. The intruder thread his fingers between Oliver's and dropped their hands onto the bed.

"It's too early," he muttered sleepily. "It's not time to get up yet. Go back to sleep."

Oliver chuckled and turned onto his back, knocking into a hard, warm chest. He opened his eyes again and smiled up at James' still sleeping face. "You're allowed to say that, you have a free period first. I have to get to class."

He started to get up, almost managing to sit up completely before James was able to snake his arm around Oliver's middle and pull him back down. He moved to lie on top of the surprised boy and briefly kissed the side of his mouth before leaving a trail along his jaw to his ear.

"Why can't we just stay here?" he whispered, nipping his earlobe, then burying his face into the space between his lover's shoulder and neck.

"People will notice," Oliver said quietly, guiltily. "I'm not ready."

"Be ready," James told him softly. "Everything's going to change."

Then the alarm went off again...

***

Oliver jumped up quickly, catching his sheets at his waist, and shut off the alarm with a groan. It was his first proper sleep since he'd spoken to James a few nights ago and it just had to be the night he'd dreamt about the guy, then he had be woken up by a clock on a Saturday. Not even the fact that it had just turned eleven, meaning someone had changed the alarm time for him so he wouldn't have to be up early, helped with his mood.

What's going to change?

He really hated dreams.

He fell back down, his hand in his hair as he groaned at no one in particular. The open window let in a calming breeze and Oliver shut his eyes, welcoming the feeling. Somehow he just knew that it wouldn't last.

The door swung open, hitting the wall with a loud bang, and he watched Sarah make her way to the end of his bed. "Come on, you. Get up. You said we were sorting out your pictures today. I don't want to wait anymore."

Nodding and let himself smile, Sarah always did make the task fun, Oliver kicked the covers away and stood up, fixing his pajama pants, so that they weren't twisted, before walking to the boys' bathroom. His shower was quick and he brushed his teeth while he was still in the bathroom, coming back to find his friend rummaging through his trunk. He let her, knowing she would be careful with his cameras, and waited on the bed for the inevitable clothes show.

"I like this top. Do you like this top?"

Oliver rolled his eyes and contemplated wearing it. It was nothing special, just a plain white t-shirt, but he'd grown a bit since wearing it and, while it just about fit, it clung to his body in a way that seemed a little revealing. "A little tight, don't you think?" he asked, not wanting to say the real reason because she knew it anyway.

"Maybe James will notice," she said with a wink and a grin. He groaned; he had to stop her trying to get them together. Although, it wasn't like James was taking her hints and his friend Tucker was too busy trying to Sarah's attention to really notice, so it wasn't like either of them would figure it out any time soon. It still made him uncomfortable, though. She threw him the top and started looking for pants. She eventually pulled out a pair of loose fitting jeans that always found a way of stopping just below his hips, no matter how many times he pulled them up or if he had a belt. But he liked them because of the cool chain that went from the loop by the zip to the end of his right front pocket. If you looked closely, you could see that the figures going across it were cameras. "I'll meet you in the common room. Hurry up."

Saluting Sarah sarcastically, Oliver waited for her to leave and for him to slide his underwear on before he dropped his towel. He dressed, dried his hair with his towel, so it was still damp, grabbed his sunglasses and the bag with his equipment in and left the room.

"What's with the glasses?" Sarah asked as soon as she noticed.

"The sun is out; I'd like to see what we're actually doing."

"I get that. Why are you wearing them now? Inside?"

"I didn't want to carry them," he told her honestly, grinning innocently.

"It's so hard to think of something negative about you when you look so adorable," she pouted a little. She really couldn't; it was like her mouth just stopped working when he smiled in that way - lopsided and playful, with his head tilted just a little to the left. She called him crazy no matter what, but she considered that a term of endearment; she didn't think she'd love him as much as she did or be as close to him as she was if he wasn't his crazy self. "I don't even know if I want to try."

She looped her arm through his and pulled him out of the common room, along the corridor to the Great Hall. "Then don't try," he replied.

"But it's like a challenge now," Sarah pointed out, shrugging. "It'll just take a while. But if I can think of something negative to say when you're not being adorable, I can do this, too. And believe me when I say that took a while."

Frowning, both because of what she was doing and what she said, Oliver stopped her. "You said something negative about me?"

"When you dropped all your books and started swearing and I called you a Silly Billy," she reminded him seriously.

"Yeah. That one really hurt my feelings," he said between laughs he just couldn't hold back.

"Hey, Oliver, Sarah."

Sarah ignored him and waved at the two girls walking past. They were friends in their group, not too close to them, but they liked the girls. They looked like they had come from the Great Hall; Oliver briefly wondered if there was any food left. His laughter ended just in time for him to move his sunglasses to his head and turn around.

"Smile, ladies."

The two girls posed, grinning at the camera just as Oliver took the picture. "What are you going to do with all of the pictures, Oliver?" one asked, the other nodding as though she'd been wondering the same.

"I'm going to make scrapbooks for the end of year. I'll give them out after Graduation because I think that should be a picture that goes in there."

"Oh, that's a great idea," the second girl squealed. "We'll have all of our memories."

"Thanks," Sarah answered excitedly. "It was my idea. We're going to get started now."

"Good luck. They'll be amazing, worth paying for, I bet."

"Don't worry, you can have them for free," Oliver promised, nudging Sarah in the ribs before she could talk about prices. "I'm not going to make people pay for something that is for you. Come on, Sarah. Bye, ladies."

"The money we could potentially make would help us pay for the holiday we've been planning," she sighed unhappily. "That reminds me; where do you want to go?"

"We have until summer to decide, right now focus on paying for it," Oliver said rationally. She knew he was right; they'd only be disappointed if they planned where they wanted to go only to not go because they couldn't afford it. The woes of being poor, Sarah called it.

There was food left in the hall, but Sarah was too excited about sorting through his pictures to let him stay for very long. But even though he only had a couple of pieces of toast, which he mostly ate on the way to the lake, he was okay with it. He was kind of excited, too. The lake was unoccupied except for one person, who was sat against a tree quite a distance away from where Oliver and Sarah stopped. They could barely see him, but they could definitely hear him.

Hugo Weasley was the youngest in the family, the baby everyone wanted to protect - even though Lily Potter was only a month older him. Even so, he was the most self-reliant. And the smartest, with an eidetic memory and above average IQ, though he never talked about it or gave an exact number. He was alone more times than he was with friends and family, it was how he preferred it, and if he wasn't in the library, speeding through yet another book, he was more likely to be by the lake... singing. He wasn't necessarily interested in music as a profession, from what little Oliver knew about the boy, he was sure Hugo would get bored and stop the moment someone would talk about making it a career. He sung because it relaxed him, he played the guitar just so he had a tune to sing to. His sister Rose had overheard Oliver ask once and told him that Hugo had found the instrument in a shop window and, unable to think of something else to do at the time, had bought it, figuring that would be the thing he'd try to learn that year, other than a language. He was quite talented and the only one in the family who could really sing, though apparently Albus Potter and Molly Weasley weren't that bad.

The song he was singing now was a slow song, a love song maybe, and Oliver wished he could hear the lyrics properly. But Hugo was too far away.

Oliver took out his camera, zooming in. He could just about manage to get a proper picture; Hugo was clearly noticeable, including the guitar in his hands and the glasses on his face, but he was small in the picture, like a little action figure. It would have to do.

"He'll get you for that," Sarah said. Hugo wasn't camera shy, he'd certainly had his fair share of photos taken thanks to his mum's campaigns, but unless you wanted broken bones and a disfigured face, you had to ask him first. He was a private person; there wasn't much anyone knew about him, including his family.

Oliver shrugged; Hugo hadn't noticed the flash. "He won't know until he's shown the scrapbook at the end of the year. Then he'd have to find me."

"What if he does?" Sarah asked.

Oliver scoffed, taking a seat in the ground and opening up his bag. "I'll get my new best friend to protect me."

Laughing, Sarah joined him. "No offense, but James is more likely to forget all about it. Face it, Ollie-Pop, unless you hide or get rid of that picture, you're a dead man."

Oliver shook his head; he was not afraid of Hugo Weasley. Though it was clear from Sarah's look that he should be. He knew better than anyone that looks could be deceiving, but Hugo was just too adorable for him to be scared. Every time he saw the kid, he just wanted to hug him. It helped that Hugo himself liked hugs. He just had to like you first and they'd never really talked. That's what Oliver found so weird about it.

A problem for another day, he said to himself. He took out a plastic board from his bag, putting it onto the ground in front of them, then a box marked 'Third Year' and handed it to Sarah, along with another one marked 'Fourth Year'. He had five, one for each year he'd been at Hogwarts, and the first four had every picture he'd taken in those years. They weren't very big boxes, he'd had to put extension charms on them to hold all of the photos, but they would do. After Christmas, when he'd be able to use his computer, he'd start adding his seventh year photos. Until then, they were going through the one's they had, finding the best one's to potentially use for the scrapbook. He'd brought the board so that he wouldn't have to put his pictures on the grass; he didn't care if the weather was warm and the grass was dry, it just wasn't happening.

They talked and they laughed, reminiscing over what was going on in each photo, and they listened to Hugo play. He stopped about an hour in - he was now just lying on the grass, Oliver checked - and Oliver dug around his bag for his iPod. He loved his iPod, wished he could play it all the time, but he couldn't charge it here and had to be careful. The longest he'd made it last for was a month and that was only because he hadn't touched it at all throughout September. There was an old classroom in the school designed for Muggle appliances to work; it was an experiment, a way of seeing if it would work, and had ways of charging phones and music players and laptops. It even had WiFi, though because it was an experiment, the school wouldn't invest in computers and students had to bring their own laptops if they wanted to use it. There was a charm around the room that prevented magic from being used inside, that way it wouldn't interfere with Muggle technology. The room was scarcely used, though some Muggleborns tried, including Oliver, to keep in touch with families. Most were more interesting in the new world they'd come to, and people hadn't taken into account that the charm around the room to keep magic out was a charm, magic itself. Though it was around the outside of the room, it was still there, still within proximity, and things messed up often, more so if you left the door open. Oliver didn't trust the room to charge his iPod and he never brought his computer. The only reason it hadn't been closed off yet was because it was used, if only a little, and mostly by the kid behind them. He seemed to know how to keep his laptop working.

He probably read it in a book.

"Oh, I love this song!" Sarah cried happily, turning the iPod up as far as it would go and singing along.

She dropped the pictures onto the board, the iPod on top so it wouldn't get stood on, and pulled Oliver up, bringing him closer.

"No, I'm not dancing," he protested meekly.

"Fine. Sing then."

"I'm a crap singer."

"You're only saying that because you've been listening to him." She pointed to Hugo. "Ignore him, he's just good at everything."

"Not everything," Oliver reminded her. "He's as afraid of heights as I am. Which is saying something really; I thought I was the only one who would go so pale I'd almost pass out."

"Sing or dance," Sarah ordered, holding out a hand expectantly. She didn't expect him to grab her hand and spin her to him while singing. "Ollie!"

Oliver continued to sing the song, proud that he managed to get the words out while laughing at Sarah's hilarious dance moves. She nodded as the song neared the end; he had to do something, too. He couldn't just stand there and sing along semi-quietly. He belted out the last line, his arm outstretched and his hand in a fist.

"Now don't you understand that I'm never changing who I am!"

They jumped and turned when they heard people whistling and applauding. Oliver put his head in his hands and cursed fate the moment he saw that James, along with Tucker, was watching them.

"What are you two doing here?"

"We came to make sure Hugo remembers to eat," James said, still chuckling. "We didn't expect the show. Well done."

"That we can charge for," Oliver told her.

"Hey, Sarah," Tucker tried to flirt with her.

Sarah put her hand between them. "No. Just no."

"But -"

"Walk away, Matthews."

"Wow. Anti-climatic or what?" James laughed. "You should have heard his 'this is the day Sarah acknowledges me' speech. Moving stuff; I swear, I felt a tear form. Yeah, I was just imagining the slap on the face he'll eventually get."

"You should listen to your friend," she warned him. "He knows what he's talking about."

"So, what are you doing?" James asked Oliver, both of them ignoring Tucker defend his reasons for thinking Sarah would date him.

"Sorting through every photo I've taken here," Oliver replied, picking up his camera. "We're going to pick the best and make a book."

"Cool. I like... this one," he finally said, looking through the stack of fourth year photos and pulling out a picture of Oliver asleep in History of Magic. Again.

"Er, no. I said all of the pictures that I took. Sarah took that one."

James grinned, continuing to look. "Oh, is it weird that I also like this one?"

He turned it around, held it up for Oliver to see. Oliver tried to control his body's reaction, not wanting to blush when he saw it. It was of James during the summer of fourth year; they were in Hogsmeade one last time before they finished school for the year and Oliver had been about to take a picture of the joke shop when James ran through it. He stopped right in front and Oliver got the picture just after Tucker and Ryan had soaked him. Thankfully, Oliver had Muggle cameras or the picture would be showing James taking his top off right now.

"You got in the way," Oliver muttered. He cleared his throat. "But it's an alright picture, I suppose. I'll add it if you want it. And, yes, it is weird that you like a picture of yourself."

"Are you adding this year's pictures to it?"

"Yeah. Why?"

James held out a hand, putting the photos back onto the board and, nervously, Oliver handed him his camera. He took a picture of Sarah and Tucker, stunning them into momentary silence because of the flash. James turned back to Oliver. "Because people should see the look on their faces."

"Or they could see another picture of you, too," Tucker glared.

"We're not talking about that anymore," James warned him. "Do you want help choosing your pictures?"

"No," Oliver said, hoping his voice didn't actually sound as shaky as he'd thought. There were more pictures of James over the years; it would be too embarrassing to let him see. "We're putting them away, going to lunch. You can help another time."

When I've removed the pictures.

"Okay. I'll help." James put the pictures into the box Oliver pointed at and then put the board away. "There. I look forward to seeing your book. You've never let people see your pictures before."

"First time for everything," he replied. They started to walk, their friends still having their own conversation behind them, and Oliver almost forgot that James still had his camera until he was stopped.

"We should have a real picture, one that says 'we're officially friends'. That way my family can't think I've lied about it," James said.

"They think that?"

"Well, they'd never met you before this, so," James shrugged. "Come here."

James put Oliver in front of him, so that he could hold the camera with both hands, and murmured "smile" into his ear before taking the picture. "I think it looks pretty good, don't you?" he asked, handing it over.

"Yeah, it does," he said softly, unable to look away. They looked more like a couple in this than they did in the media one. Was there someone looking down on him just wanting to torture him?

"That was adorable," Sarah gushed.

"That was trouble waiting to happen," Tucker corrected, pointing in front of them.

Melanie was watching them and if looks could kill...

Oh, crap.



A/N: Aww, poor Ollie-Pop (it's weird how much I know love that nickname - the reason for it will be in the next chapter). :)

Now don't you understand that i'm never changing who I am - It's Time and belongs to Imagine Dragons. It fits with the overall theme I want for this story. Don't expect any more lyrics, though, I think it's a rare occurance. :)

I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please let me know what you think. :D

Sam.


Chapter 6: Whispers and Touches
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People were already whispering as they entered the Great Hall for lunch and the moment they paused to stare, Oliver knew that Melanie had opened her mouth and spread some sort of rumor about him and James to force them apart. He heard James' intake of breath, a surprisingly calm echo of his own, and let himself be pushed towards the Gryffindor table. Only their friends spoke to them as though nothing was going on, James' cousin Roxanne and her friend Aidan joining in as soon as he'd been dragged to the table, but everyone else chose to whisper about them. Occasionally, Oliver would look up and spot James' teammates nudge the other and point - wanting the other to ask if the rumors are true, he guessed.

Lunch was almost over when he dropped his fork onto his plate, not able to try to eat anymore. "Do these people have nothing better to do?" he demanded to know, loud enough for people around to hear.

At least they have the decency to look embarrassed, he thought to himself.

"You're just new information again," Rose Weasley shrugged. "You're a bigger piece of gossip because it adds to the drama they read about during the summer. It's drama they haven't seen a hundred times a day thanks to being stuck with the same people twenty-four/seven. They'll talk about it for a couple of weeks, then forget all about it."

"I agree," Roxanne nods along, stabbing her fork through her last bit of dessert, only for Aidan to grab her wrist and eat it. She dug her elbow into his ribs until he moaned, then pushed him away so that she could finish what she was saying. "Trust me, boys. I talk for a living, remember? I know these people and how they act better than they know themselves; they'll stop soon. It'll stop faster if they find something bigger to talk about."

"Maybe you should tell them about your agreement with Aidan, Rox. Or about the almost vicious fight you had with Bonnie Kennedy because she tried to take him," Rose suggested, a mischievous glint in her eye that made Oliver think that she'd spent a little too much time around Albus and his friends. "Gossip about you is rare for anyone to see; everyone will go 'Oliver who?' and 'Potter does a lot of things'."

Oliver broke off a piece of biscuit, still bypassing his main meal thanks to his bad mood, and waved it in front of James' face. "I may have got 'Oliver who?', but you got the last name. Now that's just disrespectful in a whole other level," he said sarcastically. Oliver who?

"And you are?" James asked, feigning confusion too well for Oliver's liking before smirking. Oliver's hand froze, his biscuit almost touching his lips, then crumbled it in his fingers, letting the crumbs fall into James' lap. "Oh, not cool, Ford! Are you crazy?"

"If I was, do you really think I'd admit it?" He frowned, starting to think about it. "Then again, do crazy people know that they're crazy? How would you know if I'm lying?"

James gave him a long, hard look, then took the rest of his biscuit. "Definitely crazy."

Oliver shared a look with Sarah; one nod confirmed that they were thinking the same thing - Did he just take my biscuit? He did just take my biscuit. He took my freaking biscuit!

"He's joining you in crazy town," Aidan said knowingly, speaking for the first time. He shook his head condescendingly, letting his shaggy dark hair fall into his eyes. "You don't take food off of other people's plate, James; that's stupid. You don't take biscuits off of Oliver's plate; that's insane."

"Says the guy who casually took Roxy's not five minutes ago," Rose countered, pointing at him.

Aidan shrugged. "No, that's not the same. You want to know why? Because it was on the fork and in midair, therefore not on the plate, that's why. Think about it."

Oliver laughed at Aidan's slightly odd logic, knowing he'd have made some sort of excuse at some point no matter what. He liked Aidan; he sometimes took things too seriously and he often tried to control the situation he was in - he guessed it was an alpha wolf thing - but he didn't let everything get to him, which made him fun to be around. He only really hung out with Roxanne, only sometimes joining her with James' group, and not many people were comfortable being around a werewolf, but it didn't stop him. Oliver respected Aidan for that, even wished he could follow that example with his secret.

"Plus, you know, they're sleeping together, so he probably thinks he can make Roxanne forget about it," Oliver added, pushing back his secrets and thoughts. Now was not the time. There was never going to be a time. "Now is that really a secret? Because not only do I know that it's true, I also have pictures of you two making out last Halloween. And not with other people."

"Given the situation, I will not put my arm around your shoulders, but you just became my new best friend," James said in awe and grinned; no one talked to Roxanne Weasley like that, not unless they wanted their secrets told to the world the next day. Oliver prayed she didn't know a thing about him. That she liked him enough to leave it wasn't something he liked thinking about, but could live with. James ignored Tucker's protests on the best friend comment. "Can we see these pictures? And by we I mean the school in general, because I don't want to. That would be weird."

"No," he answered, watching Roxanne for a reaction - she was shocked that he'd seen, but not angry that he had or nervous about it being known. And she didn't look like she knew anything about him. Oh, thank God.

"Spoilsport," James pouted, then nudged Oliver lightly to show that he was joking.

"So, Oliver, the pictures you have, that was just you happening to see us while taking pictures of the night?" Roxanne asked casually.

He shrugged. "Yeah. I don't look for specific people and use the pictures against them. That's mean."

"Awesome," she said with a nod. "I was just thinking that if you use those Halloween pictures in your scrapbook, feel free to add it."

They all knew that Roxanne had, in her own way, confirmed her relationship with Aidan. It was more than they thought they were ever going to get.

Their group conversation gradually broke apart, their friends moving away to speak to others, and as Oliver once again began to notice the onlookers gossiping about him and James, he felt the change in the air, the feeling of awkwardness between them closed around them like an uncomfortably thick blanket. From the corner of his eye, he saw James shift and fidget in his seat. Oliver knew it wasn't because of him, they'd been fine during their moments alone, it was because of everyone watching.

Got to fix it.

Oliver scanned the room for anything he could use, knowing he was likely to get in trouble for it, but not caring as long as people got the message. It was a long shot, people liked to talk whether it was true or not, but Oliver was going to try.

"You okay?" James asked cautiously.

He nodded once, sharp and quick, and continued to scan the hall. It was always the busy on a weekend, during the day; breakfast lasted from seven until lunch because everyone got up at different times, then at noon it would change and last until two. Then the hall would empty until dinner around seven. It was nearing two now, people were starting to move; he could see clearly enough.

"Then can I ask you a personal question?"

"Sure," Oliver muttered distractedly.

"What's with the really right t-shirt? Are you trying to impress someone?"

Yes. The sudden thought caused Oliver to pause and look down at his top; Sarah had said that James might notice, and he did, though for different reasons than what she suggested and he wanted. And he hadn't disagreed to wearing the top despite the weak protest. Was he trying to impress James? With what?

"No," he said instead. "Sarah grabbed the first things she could because she didn't want to wait for me and we could sort through the pictures," he half lied. She had picked his clothes for that reason, she'd just been looking for the t-shirt.

He ignored the wink she gave him, an 'I told you so' ready to part with her lips.

"Oh," was all James said and Oliver went back to looking around.

He stopped at the Hufflepuff table, finding a younger student with books all around her, probably finishing some homework, and aimlessly tapping the feather of her quill against the top of the parchment. Oliver got up and walked over, well aware that eyes were on him and James had followed him, keeping a bit of a distance - he was curious, not ready to stop him.

"Hey, kid," Oliver smiled, kneeling on the bench opposite her. He made his smile seem as charming as possible and knew from her blush and the stammered out 'hey' that he'd at least gotten something right. "Can I be annoying and ask for some of your parchment please?"

"S-Sure," she replied, her voice coming out as a whisper.

"And the quill, too?" he asked. She handed it over wordlessly. "Thanks, kid."

"Haley," she blurted out.

Oliver grinned. Obviously, not everyone believed the rumors. "Thank you, Haley."

He settled down at the table and started writing his message. He ignored Haley's stare, answered her few, very random questions and made himself sit still, so that he couldn't turn around and tell James to get lost. As soon as he was done, Oliver handed back the quill, thanked her again and turned the parchment over, so the writing couldn't be seen. He pulled out his wand and cast an enlargement charm, making the parchment grow bigger, checked to make sure the writing was still clear and cast a sticking charm along the edges.

Now for the main event...

Oliver levitated the parchment carefully, turned it around and pointed his wand upwards, then back, so that a large sign was now stuck to the wall above the doors of the Great Hall, in full view of the staff and students of Hogwarts.

Oliver Ford is not shagging James Potter - not now, not ever! Keep spreading these lies and the hospital wing will find themselves out of beds.

Yeah, I'm looking at you, Melanie.


There was a collection of gasps from around the room, more because he'd actually done what he did, he guessed. It was drastic, he knew, but he'd live with the consequences.

"Get the message!" Oliver called out to the room. "I know you all love the drama, so I thought I'd add a bit of my own."

"You've made your point, crazy boy," James said, his eyes on the sign. "Although the exclamation mark after the 'not ever' kind of hurts my feelings a little. At least give us all a little hope," he joked. He sobered quickly when they noticed their Transfiguration teacher coming their away and they knew the consequences were coming. "I'm sorry that this is driving you so crazy that you felt forced to do this."

"Really? I thought it was because I really wanted to stick something to the wall," Oliver grinned sarcastically, but without venom. He was playing, reassuring James that it wasn't his fault.

"Oliver, what an interesting way of having your opinions heard," Professor Burns chuckled. "The art of conversation is well and truly dead to this generation. Now, Headmaster Digby has given me the pleasure of giving you detention. He says defacing school property and threatening students are against the rules."

"In that order?" Oliver asked. "Wow, his priorities are - there are no words."

"Come on, Oliver. I know you're angry and upset that people are talking about you and making it very personal, but even I have to agree with the man; making threats is not okay, even fake ones, because I know you well enough to know you would never."

But she threatened me! Oliver wanted to yell out, but he kept it to himself. He didn't need anyone else interfering. "Yes. I would never act on it, and unfortunately she knows that as well, but she is the one spreading the rumors and that is not okay."

Professor Burns didn't seem phased in the slightest; he nodded. "And I'll deal with that. As for you: since this is your first offense, so to speak, Digby is not revoking your Hogsmeade privileges this time, but you do have detention with me during the week. We can do the extra reading."

"You mean the stuff I asked you for?" Oliver smiled a little.

"Yeah. But now you've got to read them with me; I have basically given myself detention, it's awful!"

"At least you have a student who knows what they're talking about," Oliver shrugged nonchalantly. "Maybe you won't have to repeat it ten times."

"My students are excellent," Burns scoffed. "You just happen to be an exceptionally good one." They ignored James' thank you.

"At least I'm getting Outstandings in something," Oliver muttered once Burns walked away to tell the head he'd given out the detention, pointing at Melanie and gesturing for her to follow him as he did so. She gave him one of her glares before she moved, one he'd seen many times recently, then her eyes moved to the sign and she laughed.

Bitch.

"She's going to make you pay," James told him regretfully.

"She can try, but I have something that she doesn't and it kills her. I will always have the upper hand."

"Oh, yeah? And what's that?"

Oliver looked James up and down, until it seemed as though minutes had passed and he finally understood.

"You."

***

Oliver ended up falling asleep on the common room's couch after spending the night looking through and removing pictures he didn't want other people to see. He knew exactly where he was when he woke, he expected the silence he'd wake to.

He did not expect to see Ryan staring down at him.

"Ah! What the hell, Ryan?" he shouted, jumping up. "What are you even doing in Gryffindor?" he demanded to know from his Slytherin friend.

"Some second year was leaving just as I got here, she let me in," Ryan shrugged, not caring that he'd just scared the crap out of a friend. "I am here because your Hogsmeade privileges haven't been revoked; we're going now, so get ready. You know, I love that as a seventh year, we can go any weekend we want, for as long as we want. I hear that they never used to do that."

"We could do that as sixth years, only it was a ten o'clock curfew rather than a midnight one," Oliver reminded him as he made his way to the stairs.

He washed and dressed quickly, thankful that, despite the couch not being as comfortable as the bed, he'd gotten decent nights sleep and didn't look like hell. He moved his pictures from his bed to the lock box in his trunk, grabbed his camera and put it around his neck and met Ryan downstairs.

"After you," Ryan bowed at the portrait, stepping out after him. "I also came because I wanted to congratulate you on your daring little message to the school; no one is talking about you and James. Well, not in public. Some of the whispers are interesting."

"How so?" Oliver asked, only mildly curious. He was just grateful it had been somewhat successful.

"Some are betting Melanie kills you, some are thinking it's just a ploy from James to make Melanie jealous," Ryan laughed, an 'as if' quickly following. "My favorite, though, is the whisper that you're better for James than her, that you're perfect for each other. I have no idea who started that one, but I like it."

"Great," he muttered, needing to talk to Sarah. No one knew about him, not even the great Roxanne Weasley; the only way people could even contemplate him being gay without the help from media photographs would be if she whispered. Because she'd never hurt him so much that she'd outright tell people.

Oliver hoped it was her, more than he hoped it wasn't. He knew how to stop it if it was, it was just another rumor to add to the mix and no one would know the truth (which was why she'd have done it), but if it wasn't, it would mean another person in school at least suspected something and that wouldn't do.

"That's all I've heard about you," Ryan continued speaking. "None are bad. Oh, and they think the banner was brilliant. Crazy, but brilliant. I think people are still laughing about it. They wish Melanie wasn't joining in, though. She's also got detention, you know? For starting the rumors yesterday. She's with Hernandez, so your paths won't cross."

"Anything else I need to know?" Oliver asked once Ryan had paused for breath.

"Yeah, one more. You're about to find out the biggest reason why people are no longer talking about you and James," he winked.

Ryan pointed to their group, waiting just outside the doors - James and Tucker stood by the castle wall; Sarah was with a Ravenclaw friend Emily; Jacob Wood, Gryffindor's keeper and next in line to be captain after James graduated, was jumping around with the few other teammates who'd whispered about him; Aidan pulled Roxanne closer to kiss her.

...Oh.

"Yep. She kissed him in front of the Great Hall no long after you left, made sure you were no longer talked about. Which you would have known if you'd come for dinner," Ryan said sternly.

"I ate in the kitchens. And I'm obviously not having breakfast," he added. "Is my sign still up?"

"No," Ryan chuckled. "It took a bloody long time, but Digby finally got it off the wall. You used a really strong sticking charm, Ol."

Ryan grabbed his sleeve and pulled him towards the group, calling to everyone that they could go. Sarah linked her arm through Oliver's and handed him a toasted bacon sandwich. He thanked her gratefully and held her back a little, making sure there was a bit of a distance between them and the rest of the group before speaking to her."

"There's a whisper that James and I are 'perfect for each other'. Was that you? Another one of your ways of getting him to notice without outright telling people that I'm gay and like him?"

"I wish," Sarah muttered back. "But I'm not brave enough to do that to you. I mean, I'll give hints to James himself, sure. But to spread it around the school? You'd hate that. So, no, it wasn't me. I heard it this morning."

"Damn."

"Wait, you wanted it to be me?" she asked in shock.

"If it wasn't you, then someone in this school suspects something about me," he whispered. "And that is worse."

"One; no, it isn't. Louis was openly gay, no one cares. You're just weird. Two; this didn't start until after the media photos, so it's probably just someone who thinks you two look good together. You've got to admit, Ollie-Pop, you two look pretty damn cute together in that picture."

Oliver shook his head, knowing rationally that Sarah's reasons made sense, and ignored the cute comment. He didn't want to be cute, he wanted to be... Hell, he had no idea what he wanted to be, but it wasn't cute; cute was what you called a child.

"Are you two coming or not?" Emily yelled at them.

Sarah assured Oliver that everything was fine, grabbed his hand and ran to reach the group. Oliver held onto his camera and prayed his breakfast wouldn't come back up.

***

They found themselves in the Three Broomsticks after an hour or so of wondering around. They found the biggest table and squeezed around it, Oliver conveniently finding himself between James and Ryan when he was usually near the end with Sarah. He gave her a look before sitting, giving his drink order to Dion Halfpenny, a Chaser on the Gryffindor team.

The conversation quickly turned to Quidditch talk, about the first game of the school year, the Gryffindor team playfully ganging up on Ryan, who was the only Slytherin to regularly hang out with them, more than Aidan, Albus and his friends. Oliver felt like more of an outsider than he usually was, pressing himself back into his seat and keeping quiet; at least when he was sat in the corner with Sarah and Emily, they could have their own conversation.

"Will you be taking pictures for your book, Ol?" Dion asked, pointing at James, Tucker and Ryan. "Since it's the last season for some of us."

"Yeah."

"Of course he is," Sarah grinned. "When does Ollie-Pop not take pictures?"

"Ollie-Pop?" James questioned, amused by the name. Oliver put his hand on his chest. "Ollie? Yeah, I got that." Oliver put his finger into his mouth, pressed it to the inside of his cheek and pushed it out, making a popping sound. "Pop. Oh. Okay."

"She saw me do it on my first day; the name stuck," he explained quickly. "It's kind of a habit I have when I'm concentrating, it's very random and I don't realize I'm doing it. Ryan's seen it."

Ryan nodded. "I have. I'm going to stick with Ol, though. And Sleepers. And Sir Snores-A-Lot. Ouch."

He rubbed the spot where Oliver elbowed him, muttering about it not being his fault that Oliver always falls asleep in History. James patted Oliver's arm, looking both amused and apologetic, and promised that he'd stick to normal names.

Oliver wondered how long it would take before the place where James touched him would stop tingling.

Damn crush.



A/N: New chapter for y'all. And I have a writing plan, which I hope to stick to, so updates should become more frequent. :)

I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please let me know what you think. :D

Sam.


Chapter 7: Stronger
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Trigger warning: self harm is implied. It's one of the reasons for the sensitive topic/issue/theme that is in the warnings. It only plays a small role in this story, it's in the past, but I'm warning you anyway. It does not glorify the issue and does not happen in this, but if you're uncomfortable, it's okay if you don't want to read. It's only alluded to in the beginning.




The scars were always visible, pale white lines crisscrossing over his tanned skin. During the year, when the tan had faded, they were harder to see, but right now, after spending most of his summer at home in Florida, they stuck out like sore thumbs. His glamor charms kept them hidden from others, kept people from asking questions when he wore t-shirts. It had worn off just before lunch, while in Transfiguration; he'd felt the magic wear off, causing him to shiver. It had felt like icy hands were crawling up and down his skin, but it was necessary. He'd been so thankful that he had kept his shirt sleeves rolled down.

In the safety of his dorm, free to sit and hide alone, Oliver had rolled up his sleeves, fully intending to glamor his arms and cover the scars again. But he found himself staring at them instead, sometimes tracing them with his fingers without actually touching them. He remembered the reason for receiving each and every one of his scars, not just the ones on his arms but up and down his body, and he hated them all. And he understood them all.

He wished he could get rid of them, but he had grown to accept that he couldn't and instead saw them as a reminder; he was so much stronger than he had once been. He'd never put himself through that hell again.

The door opened and Oliver yanked his sleeves down, covering the skin just as James walked in; they may have made him stronger, but it was still another secret he didn't want people to know about. He hasn't even told Sarah.

He was both grateful and annoyed that his distraction had come in the form of James Potter; he was better able to forget his scars now that his crush was in the same room as him, but his crush was in the same room as him and they were alone and that couldn't be the best thing in the world.

Oliver watched curiously as James cursed all the way across the room to his bed, where he pulled off his cloak and jumper, then he moved to undo his trousers.

"Whoa," he blurted out, hiding his eyes as though he was five and finding it the most appropriate thing to do. James jumped and snapped his head up to frown at him. "Someone else in the room, dude."

"Yeah, I can see you," he laughed. "I just need to check my leg."

"Why?" Oliver asked, hesitantly lowering his hand. James dropped his trousers, but only to his knees, and his underwear was mostly covered by his shirt. Oliver tried not to show his relief; he saw less than that when they got up in the mornings. It was fine.

"Peeves found me on my way here and I hit the corner of the staircase trying to get away from him," James moaned, gently pressing against his skin. Oliver forced himself to keep his eyes on the spot the man was poking and saw a bruise begin to form. He must have hit the corner hard; it would probably be bigger and darker soon. "My leg hurts like hell and there's a huge rip in my trousers. See?"

James put the hand not holding his trousers up inside and was able to put three fingers through the hole with room to spare. Then he pulled his hand out to lift his shirt up a little. Oliver could see a large, tangled web of string coming from the hem of his boxers.

"Pulled my underwear, too," he muttered sadly. "I don't deserve this. These are my good ones."

"Surely they're not you're only good ones?" Oliver grinned, though looking skeptical.

"Well, no," James amended. "But they're my favorite pair. Compared to my cartoon ones, these make me feel like a grown up and I like that."

James stepped in front of him properly, practically daring him to look, and Oliver had to wonder exactly what the guy was thinking, if he considered this an innocent gesture. He probably did; James didn't hide as much as he did and even Tucker complained that he knew too much sometimes. James could easily mistake this for an innocent gesture, not comprehending what it was doing to Oliver's state of mind.

Why would he? You're a coward, who won't tell him the truth.

Oliver brushed the thought to the back of his mind swiftly and glanced at James, only for a moment longer than he should have; the underwear definitely suited him, all black and molded to fit his body perfectly. James didn't notice.

"Sure."

"You don't believe I can be grown up?" James asked with a wink. He looked down to pull at the tangled string; he didn't see Oliver blush.

He waited for his face to cool and cleared his throat. "I agreed with you, didn't I? Come here."

"Why?" James asked, sounding confused and, if Oliver guessed correctly, a little nervous now.

"Just come here," he answered, rolling his eyes. James shuffled over so not to trip over his trousers and stopped in front of Oliver, suddenly feeling awkward, and he refused to look him in the eye.

Oliver kept his hand at the hem of his underwear, trying not to touch his skin, but he had to to keep his grip firm. He tried to focus on his breathing rather than how warm and strong James felt, ignoring the man stiffen. Quickly, he wrapped the string around his free hand and pulled it off, then he grabbed his wand and sewed the hole in his trousers back together. He let go, leaving the bruise in case he accidentally made it worse, and James pulled his trousers up.

"Thanks," he murmured, moving away again. "That was a lot better than going to Lily, she'd just gloat about her being better at those sorts of charms than I am, and I can't find my other pairs."

"No problem."

James pushed his cloak and jumper to the end of his bed and jumped on top, moving to get comfortable. He let himself fall into his pillows and was his old self again by the time he looked back to Oliver, who had copied his actions and was already watching him.

"So, why are you up here all alone?"

Oliver shrugged, scratching his head and then his arm involuntarily; he still needed to hide his scars. He shook his head at James and did what he did best; he lied.

"No reason."

***

Potions was the last lesson of the day and Oliver both dreaded and looked forward to it. He looked forward to it because Sarah, or whatever partner their teacher gave him of she chose to pick them, was more likely to help him when it was the last lesson, because they knew he sucked and they didn't want to stay longer than they had to. He dreaded it because they made him start and he knew he was going to screw up whatever they were to make, which wouldn't help his grade.

He couldn't exactly remember what had possessed him to take Potions to NEWT level, he'd barely scraped the E students needed to continue. He vaguely remembered Sarah trying to persuade him to take the subject with her and he was sure that he had said no, even when she went into detail about how good a Potions NEWT would look on his résumé, then James had come in after Quidditch training, only wearing a pair of shorts because it had been too hot to wear his uniform. They'd hung low, just below his hips, and held Oliver's interest for the rest of the day.

It was the clearest image in his head. He mind went blank when it came to anything else from that day, including saying yes to a subject he hated.

I don't even need Potions. I'm never going to use it for work.

He jumped when a bag was dropped onto the table, frowning when he saw James take the seat on his left. Normally, he'd be secretly pleased to have the man by his side, especially when they were around others in a classroom where he couldn't embarrass himself, but that was Sarah's seat and she wasn't going to be happy.

"Why are you here?"

"Tucker told me to sit next to you, so that he has the last seat and gets to sit with Sarah," James answered, shrugging. He didn't seem to mind being moved. "His actual words were 'move or die', but I don't think he was serious."

Oliver laughed nervously. "You don't think?"

"Does he look like the type?"

James pointed to the table right across from them, which his friend was currently occupying alone; Tucker looked completely out of sorts, something Oliver couldn't recall ever seeing. He usually hid any insecurities very well, sometimes acting overly confident in his effort to get what he wanted. Now he was fidgeting constantly, bouncing his legs up and down and drumming his fingers against the desk while glancing toward the door.

Then it clicked; he was nervous about sitting with Sarah. Tucker was his overly confident self when they were in the Great Hall or outside, with a bit of distance between them and no way for Sarah to hurt him when she rejected him. She was going to be annoyed once she saw that the only empty space was by Tucker, then mad once she knew that James wasn't going to swap. She wouldn't be able to argue because the professor would start the class. She'd probably hurt him afterwards, because they both knew he'd try to ask her out again.

"The world is safe," James chuckled quietly.

"From Tucker maybe, Sarah is scarier," Oliver added with a whisper.

Sarah came in, saw the seat and the look she gave Oliver was a promise; he was in so much trouble.

And I didn't do a thing.

Tucker moved over just a little, opened his mouth a couple of times and went back to his textbook. Unable to keep a straight face, Oliver was happy to watch them while the professor started the lesson. James left him alone during the professor's explanation of how to successfully brew the love potion, Amortentia. He listened to every word the teacher said, from the different ways people feel around it to the risks of brewing it wrong and side-effects that have happened. Oliver stopped watching his friend and Janes' once he knew nothing bad or embarrassing was going to happen while the professor spoke, focusing on her just as she got to the dangers that can come with someone drinking a love potion so powerful.

He sat back, a little wide-eyed, when he heard about a number of the cases the Ministry had to deal with over the years.

"Whoa," James muttered once she had given them their assignment. He mirrored Oliver's own thoughts.

"The last one, the woman who was given it when she thought it was juice," Oliver murmured, torn between frowning because he didn't believe it and staring in disbelief because he couldn't believe it. The odd look on his face would have made the class laugh if they didn't seem to agree. "Who does that?"

"People who are given to much," James replied. "The guy who gave it to her would probably be in jail if he weren't, you know, dead."

"Sucks to be him," Oliver said sympathetically. "So, what are we doing?"

"You really weren't listening, were you?" James asked with a laugh.

"I zoned in when she got to the dangers, but I zoned out again when she got to the crazy lady at the end," Oliver admitted with a shrug. "It was way too freaky."

"Right," the man nodded and Oliver didn't know if James was agreeing with him or just being sarcastic. He continued speaking before Oliver had the chance to ask him. "The potion is our assignment; we need to make the potion and write about it, find a case to talk about or the effects in general. She had to go through the dangers of making it wrong to prepare us for making it, but we could even go into more detail on that. We have two weeks to make it and write it up. There's not enough time to make it in this lesson; I figure that we can either start planning our essay or we can pretend to do that while we wait for Sarah to explode."

"I like the second option."

James winked. "I thought you might."

Oliver pulled out some paper and a pen to make notes on, preferring the Muggle way because he made less of a mess than with quill and ink, while James turned his textbook to the page on Amortentia. It was mostly just the ingredients they needed and the steps it took to brew it, with a description of the potion, but he knew that he could easily lie about making sure he could get everything if the professor asked why they weren't working. When they next turned to their friends, Tucker was obviously trying to focus her attention on them rather than the work. Sarah was stubborn, though; they couldn't hear everything they were saying, but it was clear when Sarah shoved the book in front of him that she didn't want to talk about anything else.

"I'm gonna pay for this later," Oliver whispered to James.

"It's not your fault; Tuck planned it and I wouldn't move," he said back.

"Yeah, but I didn't stop it and I'm easier to get to."

"You have my pity," James chuckled. "Do you think she'll crack?"

Oliver smirked, raising an eye-brow. Will sarah crack? Ha!

"No."

"I don't know, Tuck can be pretty persuasive," James said innocently. "He can also drive people mental until they say yes, but that's beside the point."

They shut up when their friends glanced their way and focused on the textbook for a few minutes before looking back up; half the class were reading and the rest were messing about, but everyone was talking. It made watching Tucker and Sarah easier, but talking to each other a little harder when the noise rose the closer it got to the last bell.

"Personally, I think that Tucker should just give up," Oliver told him honestly. "She just doesn't seem to be that interested."

"I don't know, they might surprise you," James replied with a knowing smile. Oliver caught what he was referring to just in time; Tucker had said something that caused Sarah to turn away from him, so he missed the small smile she couldn't keep hidden.

James leaned in closer, his lips pressed to Oliver's ear; the shiver that ran down his back was uncontrollable and he knew that James noticed, but he couldn't bring himself to care about that. This was different and it was both dangerous and exciting.

"Not all surprises are bad," he said softly, his breath tickling Oliver's ear.

It was only after Oliver had moved closer that they both realized the room had gone weirdly quiet. Someone cleared their throat and they found Sarah giving them a smug look, a small amount of worry just concealed and only for him. Oliver dropped his head in his arms, hiding the fact that he'd gone unnaturally red.

He almost kicked James when he spoke.

"What?" he asked, still entirely too innocent.



A/N: Hey, guys. So, I hope this update was quicker than the last and that it continues to be. I want it to be, but despite my new list making updating easier, I still have a few WIPs to update, so updating each one may still take a while.

I hope you guys enjoyed this chapter and the James/Ollie (now named Jollie - how adorable :P) moments. I'm also free to give hugs because of the beginning of this chapter. *hugs*

Please let me know what you think.

Sam.

Chapter 8: James' Calm
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Between the assignment he'd been given in Potions, his other homework pieces and the detentions Professor Burns had given him for the poster he'd stuck to wall in the Great Hall, Oliver didn't have a chance to even think about what people were saying about him, let alone do anything about them. Not that he had much to do; the rumors he did hear were tame at best, now turning into a one-sided romance for James, and any he didn't hear were probably because of Sarah and Ryan, if there were any. The only real trouble he had was from Melanie; the girl didn't like the idea of James liking him, nor did she like that they were working together on Amortentia. She pulled pranks that embarrassed him, such as sticking his pants to his seat with a sticking charm so they came off when he pulled, and whispered about him using the Amortentia on James.

No one seemed to put much stock into the whispers and given the mood Oliver was in, plus remembering what he did in the Great Hall, only a few people were brave enough to laugh. Since James had obviously taken a hint after Oliver ran from Potions class and stayed away except for when they worked on their assignment, it all died down pretty quickly, leaving Oliver to act as Hogwarts' background character, sticking with his few friends and the occasional member of the group who wanted something.

Just how he liked it.

Oliver met James for the Potions assignment in their joint free periods, on Wednesday nights and Sunday afternoons; making it had been relatively easy since James actually was good at Potions. He was the calmest Oliver had ever seen him when he was concentrating; this was his element and he obviously loved it. All Oliver had to do was sort out ingredients and try not to cut off his finger, and that was fine by him. They didn't do much talking that wasn't work, except to ask about mutual friends and to occasionally laugh over Tucker's continued attempts with Sarah. It was never about themselves in case someone heard and created another rumor. Oliver's detentions were Tuesday and Thursday nights, with the rest of his time allotted to the rest of his homework, hanging out with Sarah and the Saturday Hogsmeade drink now that they were seventh years and could go whatever weekend they wanted.

So, despite sharing a dorm, it was only natural to Oliver that the next time he saw James in an entirely social setting was over two weeks after the classroom incident, during Quidditch tryouts.

Oliver spent the Saturday morning finishing the last couple of paragraphs of his History essay and writing out the theory of changing a transfigured object back into its original state. When that was done, he made sure his scars were hidden and removed his jacket; it was too hot in the Gryffindor common room even with the window open, so he knew he wouldn't need it. Then he put his work away, grabbed his camera and left to find Sarah; she mentioned something about an event she was planning for Halloween, but didn't want to tell him until he was finished and free to listen. With any luck, his friend would be in the Great Hall, where people were more likely to listen to her, but that would mean he had good luck, so he didn't hold his breath.

Whatever slither of luck he did have held, because he found Sarah one floor above the Great Hall, flattening down what looked like some kind of poster.

"Hey, you," he called out with a smile, stopping to read what she was posting.

He quickly realized it was the event she had been referring to and was pleasantly surprised that he was apparently the one who had created it and was hosting it, he was even more surprised when he realized he was okay with it.

"Do you like?" Sarah asked with a grin, her eyes on the poster. "Everyone else seems to love your idea. They think it's genius, a compliment you're only too happy to accept and share with your best friend."

"I amaze myself with my genius," Oliver continued the joke with a chuckle. "Everyone should love it. My photographer can't wait to start."

Honestly, he couldn't. They'd never planned an event like this one; Oliver took pictures of what was around him, like Quidditch and the feasts and people's faces after they've finished their end of year exams. But this Halloween show, this was brand new, and for the graduation book according to the poster.

People would be talking about this until Halloween, Oliver knew; debating what to wear and if they'd be good enough for the camera. And he would be the center of attention again, but at least this time it was for something he publicly loved rather than secretly loved and was better prepared.

Sarah looped an arm through his own and lead him away, past the Great Hall and outside. "Come on, Quidditch tryouts are about to start. There are rumors that James is topless and in shorts again; you can take pictures. Pretend they're for the graduation book, say you're making memories of our final year."

"With a story like that as backup, how can I refuse?" Oliver asked sarcastically. Sarah rolled her eyes and said nothing; they both knew he'd do exactly that.

"Has it ever occurred to you that James might actually like you?" Sarah asked once the Quidditch pitch was in sight and unintelligible yelling could be heard.

Oliver pretended to think. "Er... no."

"I'm serious." Sarah stopped them and pulled on Oliver's hand until he was facing her completely and he could see that she truly was. Her eyes were wide and earnest, her smile small and reassuring. She meant every word she said... but he was too afraid to believe it. "All that flirting, the touching, the smiles, that is entirely too innocent to really be innocent. Unless he's had too many bludgers to the head and doesn't know that he likes you... but he can't be that oblivious. Right?"

"Yes," Oliver replied immediately. "James really can be that oblivious. It's his gift, I'm sure. But that's not the point; not only am I not 'out' here, I don't want to be. So even if he did feel the same way, how would it work? Not that it matters because he doesn't. I've dealt with the fact that James Potter will always be a what if for me, a crush I had in high school that I will reminisce over every time I open my old albums, so please drop it and let me take my pictures so I have albums to open."

"Fine," Sarah sighed, wagging a finger in his face. "But if I'm right, you're getting a big, fat 'I told you so' and I have bragging rights every time people ask you how you and him got together."

"If me and him ever get together, we'd have to leave the bedroom before people could ask us that."

Oliver smirked and started walking, leaving Sarah alone to more or less say exactly what he expected her to say. "I'm trying to decide how much information is too much information and where that statement goes on the TMI chart."

***

James rode a broom in a similar way to how he brewed potions; with grace, finesse and a look on his face that was so calm, it looked as natural as breathing. Oliver hated heights, he hated sitting up in the stands with everyone else and pretending to cheer when he honestly felt faint, but as long as he looked at James, as long as he got to see that calm, he could pretend they were on the ground. Because there was nothing else in the world to either of them once James was in his element. Oliver could look at him all day and not get bored, could pinpoint him among a crowd and still think of him as the most beautiful.

He never said this out loud, he didn't need Sarah's comments (or Ryan's teasing if he were ever to know), but Oliver was willing to admit it to himself and that in itself was a step up from the start of sixth year, when he wouldn't even admit to himself that he liked James let alone admit to Sarah that he loved the other boy. But if the sly grin Sarah kept giving him was anything to go by, it was so obvious thanks to the look on his face while he watched James fly that he didn't need to say it at all.

"Shut up," he muttered to her, leaning back against the Gryffindor stall to hide his face in the shadows. They were sat on the back row, James was easily visible from there, even without his camera lens, but so was the ability to see how high they were - sitting back also helped with not looking down, for that he was glad.

They shared another look, Sarah grinning and Oliver sighing, and then they turned back to the pitch. Quidditch tryouts were going pretty well, considering the mess it had been in the beginning. He was sure half of Gryffindor, excluding first years and - of course - Hugo, had come for tryouts and from the look on James' face, he'd been a little overwhelmed. It was his third year as captain and his third year freaking out due to the numbers; the year before last James had gotten them to the final and last year they'd won the cup, so each year the numbers grew. But as time passed and everyone settled into their roles, it became clear that James was a good leader.

Sarah had made a joke about watching James shirtless, but as soon as they got there, Oliver knew that they had come to watch her little brother. David Walsh had been practicing for years and this time, they were sure he would make the team. He would make a great Chaser, would join Hugo's friend Jennifer. She was wicked fast for a fourth year, was the first person to join the team in first year since Harry Potter had started Hogwarts. Sarah was so proud of them, having known them both since they started school due to being in the same year.

"Wasn't that awesome?" she asked excitedly when James finally brought tryouts to a close and promised to have the team sheet posted in the common room by Friday. It seemed there was a lot of competition for places if the boy didn't have at least an inkling as to who would play with him. And he only had Jennifer to talk to about it as she, like him, was the only recurring player.

"Yeah, awesome," Oliver agreed, mostly because he had to. Being the best friend, the one who was there for everything with the promise to give his full attention, only went so far when James Potter was flying without a shirt on. "Is it time to go yet?"

"In a minute, I want to congratulate Davie first," Sarah answered him, grabbing his hands up pulling him up. "Come on, wait on the pitch for me."

The climb down the stairs was a lot shorter than usual; Sarah holding onto his hand while running was probably helping. She let him go once they reached the edge of the Quidditch pitch and went off to find her brother, leaving Oliver all alone on unfamiliar territory. The pitch was emptying, a few stragglers who wanted to talk about how they did walking past and ignoring him completely. Even James was gone.

"Hey, stranger."

Or not.

Oliver looked up, his eyes locking with the guy he'd been ogling all day. He had left, showered quickly and changed; instead of shorts, he was in loose-fitting jeans and shirt that was rolled up to his elbow and buttoned up, which told Oliver that he hadn't done it himself but was how the shirt was supposed to look. James looked good. He felt his cheeks burn and looked away again. "Hey."

"Enjoy the show?" James asked him with a smile, obviously referring to the tryouts rather than him.

"It was good. But I mostly came for Sarah," he said. "Since her brother tried out."

"Yeah, David is great this year," James told him honestly. "It's a really tough call. Jen and I are going to have so much fun creating our team."

"Is that sarcasm I detect, Mr. Captain?"

James laughed along with Oliver, shrugging his shoulders almost sheepishly, and let his broom lean against a stall. He didn't leave his broom in the shed like a lot of the others; it stayed by his bed.

"Was it that obvious?" he asked. Oliver nodded with a smirk. "Ah, it'll be fine. It's actually good practice. I'm more than sure that Jake and Dion will be back on the team and I have a good feeling about David, but that's still two more positions I need to fill; Jake and Jen can see what this job is like since one of them will be captain next year."

"They'll have big shoes to fill," Oliver said sincerely.

"A compliment from Mr. Ford. I'm honored," James murmured, a look in his eyes that Oliver didn't quite understand. It made his stomach flutter like a twelve year old girl's, which unnerved him. "Are you busy?"

"I'm waiting for Sarah," he answered, trying not to look disappointed.

"Oh."

James only looked disappointed for a second or two before smiling and nodding behind him. Sarah was stood a few yards away; she grinned knowingly and pointed at the changing rooms where her brother was just getting out. Never one to miss an opportunity to get them together, Oliver knew she was leaving without him no matter what.

"Are you busy?" James asked again, figuring out what Sarah was doing, even if he didn't know her reasons for it.

Oliver shook his head. "Apparently not."

"Good. I want to show you something."

He grabbed his broom and mounted it, watching Oliver knowingly. Suddenly, the air around him had disappeared, leaving his chest restricted and his body aching to take a breath.

"I'm suddenly very busy."

"Are you okay?"

"I- I can't fly," he whispered.

James smiled softly, knowingly. "I'm flying, you're holding on. I know you're afraid of heights, after four years I've noticed, but it's not far and it's not too high. You just need to hold on tight and not look down."

"I -" Oliver muttered, his throat closing when Melanie came into view.

"Where are you going, baby?" she cooed, squeezing James' arm gently. Her glare was aimed at Oliver for a moment before beaming at James.

"Get off," he growled at her, pulling his arm back and standing his broom up in case she decided to get on and go with him instead. "Why are you here?"

"You were amazing with the tryouts. The way you fly," she mock-whispered into his ear, her flirting painfully obvious.

"I should go," Oliver said softly, ignoring James' 'no' as well as Melanie's 'good'.

"Oliver, please," James called, placing a hand on his shoulder to stop him from leaving. "Melanie is just leaving."

"No, I'm not," she protested.

"Yes, you are! We broke up, it's final, leave me alone," he barked at her. "I don't want you here." He waited for a breath and then with a shrill cry, Melanie took off; they were both fully aware that she was just pissed off and would be back, but ignored it. With a smaller and slightly fake smile, James turned back to Oliver. "So, that thing I want to show you."

"Okay," he said with a sigh, his concern a two-way split between flying and Melanie. "But only if you really mean it when you say it's close by and not too high."

"Of course I mean it," he promised. James mounted his broom again and waited patiently for Oliver to join him.

With hesitant hands, Oliver wrapped his arms around James' waist and propped his chin on the boy's shoulder. "If people see this, I will kill you," he whispered into James' ear before hiding his face in the curve of the boy's neck in an effort to not look down.

"Just hold on tight," James replied and kicked off the ground. Oliver did.

The ride was short, just as James had promised, and if Oliver stretched his leg he could feel water splash against his sneaker and the edge of his jeans leg. Daring to look down, Oliver could see the black lake, so he knew he really wasn't that high off the ground either. It allowed him to prop his chin up again and watch the sun.

"Where are we going?"

"Somewhere nice," was his reply.

"We're crossing the lake and leaving school grounds, that's not allowed unless it's to Hogsmeade," he pointed out.

"Like they'll ever know."

A few minutes later, the broom came to a halt and they stepped off. Oliver moved away and turned to survey his surroundings; they were on the bank of the black lake, to the right of Hogwarts, the sun was dipping into the horizon and coloring the sky with bright reds and oranges, the water was clear and the world as he knew it was silent. Peaceful.

It was beautiful.

I love it here," James admitted gently. "I come here when I need to be alone, when I need to think, or just because it's calm. It's my favorite place in the world."

"Why did you bring me here?" Oliver asked curiously. If he had his own private spot, he wasn't sure he'd let anyone see it.

"Because you've been very stressed lately, jumpy, and I'm at least partly to blame; I thought this would be a worthy enough apology," he answered with a smile that Oliver almost considered shy. Except James was never shy. He let his broom fall to the floor, and then joined it, stretching his legs and lying down, his arms entwined behind his head. "So, sit back, relax and enjoy the quiet. We have an hour until dinner or we could go to the kitchen."

Smiling, and he knew his was definitely shy, Oliver sat with him on the grass and stared out across the lake. The castle looked like something out of a gothic fairy tale with the way the sun cast its shadow, but it was still there and he knew he was safe with James.

"Thank you."

James winked at him, but said nothing.



A/N: Finally, got a new chapter. I promise I will never pause FF writing for uni or things like NaNo again... okay, I can't. BUT I promise not to let the pauses get too long.

I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please let me know what you think. The next chapter is Halloween... and things will get... heated. ;)

Sam.

Chapter 9: Challenge Accepted
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The poking in his chest was extremely annoying; it insisted on waking Oliver up and he would not allow it. He tried to wish it away, but the poking only continued, getting harder every minute or so, until he was sure the nuisance had left a bruise or two. The poking paused for a few seconds when he turned onto his stomach; Oliver briefly hoped that the turning would suffice in explaining that he didn't want to be woken up without saying the words and revealing that he was, in fact, awake. The hope disappeared the moment the poking resumed, a nail digging into his back with each jab the second time.

Groaning in defeat, Oliver dug his hands underneath his pillow and tensed his arms, a move which caused both his pillow and his head to rise, and then he twisted slightly to look behind him.

"What the fuck do you want?" he muttered to his nuisance. Given everything she had done to him already, he wasn't surprised to see her smiling down at him from the end of his bed.

Lily Potter pushed herself back and stretched her legs out by his side, her sneakers just missing Oliver's face. He narrowed his eyes and wondered how angry James would get if he pushed the girl off. As if sensing Oliver's thoughts, Lily grinned wickedly as though daring him to do it; Oliver was pretty sure that Lily Luna Potter was the devil in disguise, a trickster who acted innocent until you were trapped.

Well, he wouldn't give her the satisfaction.

"Do you kiss James with that mouth?" she asked, her grin still in place as she folded her arms across her chest, gesturing to the curse word he'd used. "I swear, I don't know what that boy sees in you."

"My charming personality and my amazing body," Oliver answered sarcastically.

The devil scoffed.

If anyone were to ask, Oliver would swear he had no idea how Lily fell off his bed.

James would understand.

"And I thought Albus and Hugo were mean," Lily muttered, rubbing her backside where she'd fallen on it and getting to her feet. "And to answer your original question, I want you to get up. Hence the poking."

"Why? It's Sunday."

Oliver dropped his head back down, content on going back to sleep; Sunday was bed day and after almost two weeks of work and detentions (which, thankfully, were now over), he deserved a bed day.

"It's Halloween, Oliver," Lily said, sounding way too happy. "Lunch is at noon exactly, and then everyone who wants to be a part of the photo shoot needs to be in the third floor classroom by one for the register. If they're late, they can't be involved. You made the rules, you made that threat; how will it look if their photographer, the one in charge, was late?"

Groaning, Oliver pushed himself up and sat in front of her, making sure the sheets were covering him completely; he'd picked a bad time to fall straight into bed after a shower instead of getting dressed.

Lily chuckled, obviously seeming to know; Oliver was starting to like her less than he already did. Thankfully, she ignored it. "It's almost noon; so, get your costume on, pick up your camera and come to lunch. Because next time, Ryan is going to jump on you."

Winking, Lily stepped away and headed toward the door. "Oh," she added, facing him once more. "And he'd remove the sheets."

If anyone were to ask, Oliver would swear he had no idea who would be so terrible as to throw a book at Lily, just missing her head.

James might not understand that.

"Too slow!" she yelled.

Oliver moaned and searched for his pants. "It's going to be a weird day."

Which, he decided, was fitting for Halloween.

***

He kept his lunch in the Great Hall light; no doubt, Sarah, Ryan and others in their group had food and other goodies packed, had maybe even gone into the kitchens and made plans to make this event a party... with permission from Digby, of course. With plenty to eat all day, he didn't feel the need to indulge right now.

People were dotted around the hall, some in regular clothing and others dressed in costume - they were ready for the show, excited to be a part of the graduation book. They just wanted to have fun and their anticipation for it was infectious.

Oliver bit into a sausage, smiling.

"I hear you went after my sister," a voice called out from behind him. Oliver turned around to face James, Tucker standing by his side, and he was happily surprised to see that the guy was smirking. "Albus thinks you're kind of badass and he's not sure how he feels about it. Hugo wants you to be his new best friend. Lily loves you, says I should marry you; you'd make an awesome brother-in-law."

He ignored the idea of James and marriage completely; that was too much. "And what do you think?"

"I think Lily is evil and she probably provoked you if you were willing to push her away and throw a book at her, just make sure it's not something that my dad will kill you for," James answered him honestly.

"Good to know," Oliver mused and went back to his lunch. He had twenty minutes before he needed to help Sarah get the classroom, then another ten before the show started. He had time. "What's your costume?"

James sat down beside him and Oliver gestured to the suit, or part of a suit - James had the pants, shirt, tie and even the waistcoat on, but the jacket was missing. Even if he didn't have the blood around his mouth, you could tell that James was in costume; he wasn't a serious guy or the type to wear suits everyday, even if he wore a shirt - like that day he'd shown Oliver his private place - he managed to look casual in it.

He frowned when he noticed that Tucker had disappeared, but kept quiet and waited.

"Tuck's gone to the classroom to help Sarah," James answered his unspoken question, having noticed the frown. "And I'm Hannibal Lector. Who are you?"

Oliver moved his camera aside and twisted his body to show James his front, lifting up a laminated card that hung around his neck. He grinned when James sighed.

"That's not funny."

"It's hilarious," Oliver countered. He lifted up his camera and took a picture before James could react. "I think I make an awesome Witch Weekly photographer."

"If you say so, just don't let it go to your head," James warned him in jest. "I don't want to find your pictures of me on the front page of next week's issue."

"Note to self: find the most embarrassing picture of James Sirius Potter," Oliver said to himself.

He glared when a bean was thrown at his head, leaving a trail of tomato sauce trickling down his eye-brow. After a chuckle that ended quickly once he took notice of Oliver's look, James passed over a napkin; Oliver took it gratefully and tried to wipe the sauce away, causing James to laugh again when he kept missing.

"Come here, Witch Weekly," he ordered, taking the napkin back and wiping the sauce off himself. "One more inch and you would have poked yourself in the eye."

"And I would have blamed you, since you were the one to throw it at me in the first place," Oliver promised him with a faux-sweet smile.

James grinned, shrugging his shoulders. "At least it wasn't a book."

I'm in way over my head with this family.

Of that, Oliver was sure.

***

Oliver left the Great Hall exactly when he was supposed to, saying good bye to James, who was still eating his lunch and couldn't persuade him to stay. But Oliver wanted to, more than anything he wanted to remain where he was and be with James; only imaging Sarah and her wrath when she realized he wasn't in the classroom to help her set up stopped him from doing what he wanted.

Most of the work was done by the time he was there; the classroom was old and barely used, dust had settled when they'd checked it out the week before, but now it was free of dust and decorated with cobwebs instead. Lights hung low, giving the room a mysterious green glow, and mist covered the floor. Bats and spiders and over things hung above their heads; Oliver wasn't sure how realistic they were in semi-darkness, but they looked a little too good for him to want to check.

The tables were pushed to the very back of the room, stacked on top of each other except for a few that were used to hold the food and drink. A few people were already in the room, chatting excitedly about what they were doing and how things might look in the book; they were split into groups, girls on the left of the room and guys on the right.

He found Sarah and Tucker leaning against the wall nearest the girls' group; they seemed to be going over the sheets of paper in her hands. Sneaking up behind them, Oliver twisted the camera in his hand and wrapped an arm around them, taking a picture as they jumped out of their skin.

"Are you trying to give us a heart attack?" Sarah snapped, pushing him away. Tucker rubbed his eyes, the flash momentarily blinding him.

Oliver ignored the question and gestured to the classroom. "It looks good."

"Thanks," Tucker replied, grinning happily.

"Tucker's expertise - for lack of a better word - in the film world makes his life slightly more valuable today than it was yesterday and will be tomorrow," Sarah was quick to say, smiling sweetly when Tucker scoffed. "He helped with the props and the mist. He seems to like Charms."

"That's as close to a thank you as I'm obviously going to get," he muttered.

"Why is everyone split up?" Oliver asked.

"It seemed easier to organize everything," she explained, showing him the papers in her hand - schedules, when to break, who had signed up and what they were dressed as. "Think of each side as dressing rooms; some still needed to get ready, people can sit and wait for their pictures. They can mix at the food table, but here it's easier to see who's where and call when I need them."

"She's scary when she's in charge," a male voice yelled out from the darkened corner.

"You haven't seen scary until you've had Oliver Ford tell you what to do," Sarah said back. "My friend is very particular about his pictures. Now," she turned to face Oliver again, "since this is my show for another six minutes, do as you're told and sort out where you want everything for the first shoot."

"On it," he said, taking a step toward the middle of the room. "Did you -"

"I did," she interrupted and they shared a smile before getting back to work.

Oliver was sure of what he wanted to do by the time one o'clock came around and everyone was in the room; most had put two and two together when they walked in and separated themselves into groups, James included. Tucker stayed by Sarah's side so he could be told what to do; as soon as it was time, he shut the doors and pointed his wand at the lights to make the room a little brighter. Sarah took the register in group order, for people to know who they were with, and then it was time for Oliver to take charge; he had a few rules to give out before they could start.

"This register is final," he stated simply, letting his camera hang around his neck to clasp his hands behind his back. "Thankfully, everyone showed up and didn't ruin Sarah's list; if anyone hadn't, you wouldn't have been able to get in thanks to a code word our amazingly helpful Charms professor was kind enough to put on the door. I understand your need for space and air, this is a large group in a medium-sized classroom, so if you need to get out for whatever reason, ask Sarah for the code word. That word will act as a temporary off switch and let you through the wards. It won't change and you can leave whenever you like. Almost.

"Manage your time. We want this to go as smoothly as possible," he continued, starting to pace. You can eat, you can drink, you can leave, but you know your group order; it won't be hard to estimate when your turn is. And finally, do not fuck this up. This is meant to be fun for everyone, including me, but I do take my work seriously. I'm told it can become a bad habit, but I don't care. If you mess up our timetable, I will make you leave and you will not be in the book; if you disrupt the show or cause trouble in any way, I will make you leave and you will not be in the book; if you give someone who isn't on that register the code word, same thing. These rules are non-negotiable; if you break them, you will find out what an asshole really looks like. And trust me when I say I can make your seventh year a living hell. Do we understand?"

With everyone nodding their heads, Oliver smiled and unhooked his camera from around his neck to hold it in his hands. "Good. Sarah, if you please."

She chuckled to herself, amused by the reactions Oliver had received. She whispered to Tucker, who dimmed the lights and moved to join the guys, and she found Oliver's iPod and pressed play. Music filled the room, like something you'd hear in a horror film to get everyone in the Halloween mood, then she called for group one.

"Get ready," she warned them with a smirk.

***

Oliver was mesmerizing; James could admit that to himself. When they had talked at his private spot by the lake, Oliver had revealed that watching James play Quidditch was how he coped with heights, because he thought James was good and it was easy to forget his surroundings. Oliver was the same when he worked with his camera; the focus he put into every shot, the calm yet authoritative tone he used that had people listening, and the ease with which he could work while still enjoying himself made it so hard for James to look away.

The little dances and the singalong Oliver was showing were also contributing factors, but James figured they were things Oliver didn't even think about when he did them, therefore were not completely conscious actions, so he decided to keep those thoughts to himself, lest the guy kick him out.

If this was how the magazine photographers worked when they followed his family, he might actually enjoy having his picture taken a little more.

"Stare any harder and you'll burn holes into his back," Tucker whispered into James' ear, causing him to jump and break contact to turn to his friend.

"I'm not staring at Oliver," he said with a glare. "I'm observing the show."

Laughing, Tucker cupped James's chin and turned his head a little to the right. "The show is that way."

James pushed Tucker's hand away and thought of a number of retorts, some sarcastic and some rude, before sighing and admitting to his actions. Lying was rarely worth it for him; he was bad at it, he'd just panic and say the wrong thing or blurt out the truth anyway.

"So, I was staring at him, but you can't exactly blame me; he's really good at this."

"He is," his friend admitted. "But is that why you were staring?"

James frowned. "What's that supposed to mean?"

They locked eyes for a moment, both searching for an answer neither could find, and then Tucker shook his head. "Nothing. But I will say that I like when you two hang out; maybe if you do more often, Sarah and I can join, and then she'll have to spend time with me."

"You're hopeless, Tucker Matthews," James said with a smile. "But you have been my best friend since we were five, so I guess I'll think about it."

"That's all I ask."

They laughed about it, even though they both knew that Tucker was serious about wanting a reason to be around Sarah and was willing to use James to get to it, even if he had to use the best friend card. Tucker was self-confident to the point of arrogance, but he wasn't an idiot; he'd gotten James to say it. And James was serious about thinking about it; he'd have to tell Oliver about it and make sure he was on board with helping their friends first. He wouldn't have the guy thinking he was using their friendship - he could be unusually suspicious about things.

"Group six," Sarah shouted over the music.

James patted Tucker's shoulder. "My turn."

***

The show was considered a success by the end of the day; even if Oliver hadn't given out the rules, he doubted anyone would have done anything to ruin it. They all seemed to have fun and the buzz wasn't wearing off; people were laughing and joking and itching to do something else to continue the party.

Oliver had been suspicious of Ryan all afternoon; his friend was whispering. It was rarely good when he did.

Content with the pictures he had, Oliver hung his camera back over neck while Sarah flicked the normal lights back on and Tucker removed the props and the mist. The group who'd come for the show were clustered around the room or in the corridor just outside of the door, Ryan moving around every so often. Once Oliver realized his friend was only whispering to sixth and seventh years, his suspicion deepened.

"What's up?"

"Ryan's planning something," he muttered, sharing a brief look with James before turning his attention back to Ryan.

"That's what Ryan does," James said with a grin. "If world domination came in the form of a party, Ryan would be the one in charge."

"If world domination came in the form of a party, the world would finally be doomed," Oliver replied, nodding seriously. "And your snake guy wanted to kill people."

Torn between a smile and a frown, James draped an arm over Oliver's shoulders and hugged him close enough to whisper, but not enough that people would talk about them like the Potions incident. "If you're going to make jokes and comments about a terrible time in my family's history, make sure it's never in front of my mother."

"What about your father?"

"Jokes are his and Theo's way of dealing, he'd probably join in," James admitted. "He doesn't make them in front of my mother either; she may understand that he'd probably have a breakdown if he had to think about it all, but she doesn't need to hear it."

"Good to know."

"Boys," Ryan called happily, pushing them apart to stand between them and copy their original hold, wrapping his arms around their shoulders. "Guess what I heard?" He watched them both for a moment, and then winked, whispering, "Gryffindor is having a Halloween party."

"Did you start that?" James asked knowingly.

"I don't know what you're talking about," he shrugged. "But I do know that our little Hufflepuff Head Boy is snooping around and as a prefect, I feel like it is my duty to inform him that I have taken care of all indiscretions regarding party matters while you, my faithful friends, get everyone to Gryffindor. Now where is my younger Slytherin? Darcy!" he yelled, getting a sixth year girl's attention. Darcy Conway was a friend of Albus', he'd seen the girl around a few times.

"Ryan," she said back, skipping toward him once she was close enough. "What's up?"

"Did you hear?" he asked, ignoring James and Oliver completely.

She grinned. "I heard."

"Good. Now go get what I want and take it to Gryffindor. You know where it is."

"How much?"

Ryan contemplated her question for a second or so. "I'm feeling generous; bring about two thirds of it. The rest will probably last until Christmas and I can top up before James' birthday."

"I'll go get Emmett. I won't let him see where it is," Darcy promised when Ryan opened his mouth. "But knowing you, two thirds is quite a bit and I only have two hands."

"Deal. I'll pay you later."

"Free of charge," she said. "It is for a party, after all. You're not the only one feeling generous."

"What was that all about?" Oliver demanded to know as soon as she was gone.

"You'll see," Ryan teased. "Now get to Gryffindor. I have a Head Boy to control."

Oliver and James shared a look before mutually sighing; it was going to be a long night.

***

Being two of the last to leave the classroom, the Gryffindor common room was already full by the time they got there; students of each House lounged on the sofa, the floor and the stairs, someone wondered out loud if someone else was able to put Silencing charms around the younger students' doors because they didn't want do-gooders getting them into trouble, and Oliver had to push past to get his camera safely into his trunk.

Shaking his head, James went to a table usually used for homework and grabbed a mini sandwich; thankfully, someone had thought to bring all the leftovers from the show to the common room because they'd worked through dinner and they couldn't risk going near the Great Hall or the kitchen in case a teacher or one of the Heads found out about the party.

People made small talk, asked him what he thought of the photo show, but James mostly checked for the door; Ryan wasn't around yet and he desperately wanted to know if his hunch about what Ryan and Darcy had been talking about was right. If he was right, James would know that the school's security had seriously dropped since Digby had become Headmaster. The man was good, nothing terrible ever happened and he was strict but fair when he needed to be, but the man was a pushover for the rich, famous and influential - Ryan and his parents weren't any of those things, but his cousin was a famous Quidditch star. It was good enough.

The door opened and a sixth year Gryffindor walked in, Ryan stepping through immediately after and followed by Darcy Conway and Emmett McQueen, two of Albus' best friends. What was in their hands made James smirk; he was right.

"The alcohol has arrived. Drink!"

They stormed the table the moment the drinks were put down, knocking James out of the way - but not before he was able to grab two beers and one of the smaller bottles of Firewhiskey; he wouldn't need to go bak for a while.

"So, that's what he was talking about," Oliver sing-songed by his side. James held up a beer for him to take. "Thank you."

"So, he drinks."

Oliver rolled his eyes and clanged their bottles together. "He drinks. But he doesn't party; I lurk in the corner if you want to join me."

They sat for over an hour, keeping some sort of a distance between them as they talked about everything and everyone. They played Alexa Nott's game of What's Their Story, making up scenarios about the people in the room until they could no longer pretend they didn't know anything about them, then they moved onto teachers and random people in Hogsmeade.

Oliver had an active imagination and James realized that he was having more fun at a party than he could ever remember having, and he generally thought parties were fun. Only he'd never been to a party with Oliver Ford before. It was a strange, new experience.

"What's with the contemplative stare?" the boy in question asked.

"You should come to parties more often, you're fun to talk to. Especially when almost drunk," he added, taking the half empty bottle of firewhiskey they'd moved on to a while ago.

"Be careful what you wish for; I've been told I can be an angry drunk," Oliver whispered. "And I get horribly competitive."

"Is that so?" Ryan said into Oliver's ear, who jumped in surprise and knocked into James; he stretched his arm out to keep the firewhiskey from spilling over them. "Because the party games are starting."

"I've noticed," Oliver said, his voice dropping dangerously as he grabbed the bottle and took a sip.

"Come play?"

"No," they chorused.

Ryan snatched the bottle away, causing James to turn to look at him properly; his eyes were tinged red and his cheeks were flushed, the bottle shook slightly in his hand. He was way past drunk.

"I wasn't giving you a choice."

He put the lid back on and tucked the whiskey under his arm, carefully balancing it so he could grip their hands and pull them up, too. He stopped James on one end of the room and gently pushed Oliver backward to the other end, until he was stood by Sarah.

"Happy Ryan's spin the bottle," he shouted, silencing the room. "Play the game, because a happy Ryan is a generous Ryan." He shook the bottle. "The game is simple; you sit in a circle, you spin the bottle, you snog the person it lands on. It doesn't matter who it lands on, you kiss them or you forfeit. If you forfeit, you drink. And I'd be careful with that option if I were you, we have classes tomorrow. The snog lasts five minutes, then the timer will go off. Lily get out of the circle; James is playing."

"Why can't James get out of the circle?" she moaned, but did as she was told. James rolled his eyes.

"Because James is of age and is... okay when it comes to snogging, which I only know because we've played this game before," Ryan assured the room, casting a questioning eye at Oliver; James didn't know what to think of that. "Also, I may not have sent you to your room yet and I may have snuck you a beer, but I am not completely irresponsible and will not let a fourteen year old play this game. Now we play!"

He finished the bottle in his hand and lowered it to the ground, almost falling over as he tried to get back up, and moved to sit two people away from James. Then he took out his wand and aimed it at the bottle. "I think I'll start."

The game was insane in James' opinion, or maybe just people's reactions was what was insane. Less people forfeited their go the more they got drunk, himself included. The thing he found the craziest, though, was that Oliver wasn't forfeiting either. He knew, somewhere deep in his subconscious, that to feel anything akin to jealousy was stupid and hypocritical; he didn't have a reason to be jealous of the guy and he was doing the exact same thing. The only reason he was feeling this way was because he'd been pulled away from a fun conversation to play; that was all James wanted. Oliver was fun to talk to, nothing more.

He came to this conclusion six rounds and a few bottles of beer into the game, and since it was a large circle, there were a fair few bottles by his side.

When someone outside of the circle shouted that there were only two half drunk bottles of firewhiskey left, one being the forfeit drink, James knew he would be grateful for that in the morning, but right now he was very disappointed.

And then he was intrigued.

It was Oliver's turn to spin again; in his drunken state, he missed the bottle twice, causing everyone to giggle uncontrollably, but he aimed his wand correctly eventually and the bottle spun so fast (or maybe he was just imagining it) that James was still watching it even after it had stopped on him.

Hushed whispers filled the room as people wondered what two of their once favorite topics would do and James took a deep, wary breath. Until Oliver looked reluctant enough that he might forfeit.

Now that's just not fair.

"What's the matter, Ollie? Everyone else got a go; am I not good enough for you?"

Something flashed in Oliver's eyes, something that screamed with annoyance and an unwillingness to back down. I get horribly competitive, he remembered Oliver saying. And James had just baited him.

"Oh, I'm about knock every kissing experience you've ever had out of the park, Potter, and since most of them were probably with that bitch you call an ex, I bet there isn't many," he goaded, moving further into the circle. James followed, feeling slightly confused about the expression but knowing what Oliver wanted him to feel from it; he considered the challenge accepted. "Explaining baseball to you would only sober me up," he added, only helping James' confusion a little as he'd never watched or played the game.

James didn't get to say anything to counter that; as soon as they were close enough, Oliver gripped his shirt hard and pulled him forward, attaching their lips together with such force that he froze for a moment. Oliver's tongue darted over his skin and he bit into James' upper lip, wanted access; James opened his mouth and kissed back, his hands moving upward into Oliver's hair.

The kiss seemed to last forever and end too quickly; when the timer rang, James almost moved closer. But at the same time, Oliver pushed back. He looked freaked out, like he couldn't believe what he'd just done. James tried to reassure him, but didn't know what to say because he didn't understand Oliver's reaction.

It was just a game.

"Not bad," he choked out, trying and failing at nonchalance. "I have to go."

"Ollie," James started, too shocked to do anything but watch him leave. The shock wore off as soon as Oliver was up the stairs and he jumped up to run after him, ignoring everyone's calls. "Oliver!"

He found him in their dorm, sitting on the end of his bed and staring at his feet.

"Hey."

"I shouldn't have done that," he whispered, not returning a greeting. "People will think..."

"Who cares what people think?" James asked. "I don't. It was just a game; it's not the end of the world, Ollie."

Oliver's head snapped up. "Why are you suddenly calling me that? You never call me that. Acting like we're best friends now. How would you feel if I suddenly started calling you Jamie?"

"You can call me Jamie if you want to."

Oliver gave him another funny look, like he honestly hadn't expected that response. But he should have; serious wasn't James' style and he wasn't picky about his name like his cousin Louis was. Nicknames were welcome, it was only rare to hear because no one ever seemed to want to call him anything else, not even Tucker.

James hesitantly took a step forward, sitting by his side only when he was sure Oliver wouldn't run away. "And we are friends. This was just a drunken game; it doesn't mean anything."

In the morning, James would tell himself it was true, but right now he felt like he was lying. And in the morning, he would tell himself he imagined it, but right now he was pretty sure Oliver was thinking the same thing.



A/N: I didn't expect the chapter to get as long as it did... :P

Ryan's cousin is Xavier Sinclair (Silver Linings). Hannibal Lecter belongs to Thomas Harris and his novels.

I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please let me know what you think. :)

Sam.

Chapter 10: Wondering Eyes and Insinuations
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Oliver slept restlessly through the night, his mind plagued by memories of his kiss with James, a real, honest to goodness kiss, and thoughts of what he wished could have continued. His dreams left him hot and shivering all at once, they came at him with such intensity he felt like an awkward fourteen year old boy with no control all over again, rather than the semi-awkward seventeen year old with slight control over his body that he usually was.

He was mortified and embarrassed and very confused when he woke from another dream in the early hours of the morning to find James knelt by his bedside. He had his elbow bent to rest his face in his hand and his eyes were closed, a light snore loud in the silence.

Tidying himself up and fixing his sheets so they were no longer twisted, and then sitting up, Oliver raised a hesitant hand and shook James awake.

"Huh?"

"You have a bed," Oliver whispered once he was sure that James' eyes were open. "What time is it?"

"Five past five," James replied just as softly.

"In the morning?"

James' answering grin wavered because he yawned at the same time, but it was wide and genuine for a moment, then it disappeared.

"I have Quidditch practice, early is good apparently. If I'm not downstairs in ten minutes, Jen will come for me," he admitted with a grimace. James put a finger to his lips when Oliver opened his mouth, ready to ask why he was by his bed. "You get freaked out and embarrassed very easily; I was afraid if I didn't talk to you now you'd try to avoid me again. So, here I am, hungover and wishing I could go back to bed, to make sure you don't... do that."

"How long have you been sat like that for?" Oliver asked, gesturing to James' place on the floor.

James shrugged. "About five minutes. I have to get up." He rose to his feet, groaning when his knees made a cracking sound. He bit his lip and Oliver thought that James had hurt himself by kneeling for too long, but then he looked contemplative and wary. "It was just a game, you know? Ryan wasn't lying about us playing it before; no one cares. They won't say anything about you or us."

"That's not why I ran," Oliver said honestly without meaning to.

"But when I found you, you said -"

"I know what I said," he interrupted, looking away as he remembered his words about wondering what people would think. And he'd meant it, Oliver wouldn't deny that, but it wasn't his true reason for leaving the party - James had been too close to finding out about his feelings, quite literally. "It was just a weird thought, that's all. I ran because I was drunk and stupid and I shouldn't have said what I said to egg you on. I didn't mean it."

"Yes, you did."

Oliver smiled when he noticed that James was, too. He remembered his words about Melanie being a bitch. "Okay, I did. I just shouldn't have said it... all."

Shaking his head and letting out a scoff, James agreed with him. He pointed to the door and Oliver turned, frowning when he saw nothing, and then he heard light footsteps and a whispered voice demanding James hurry up.

"I should go. Captain's orders."

"I thought you were captain."

James nodded sympathetically. "You'd think."

***

Using a Muggle camera had its disadvantages; Oliver would never part with them, they were what he used and it wasn't about to change, but zoom only went so far with them when he was on the ground. The top most part of the stands was the best place to go; his camera wasn't like a magical camera, or the omnioculars you could apparently buy at live Quidditch games (he'd never been to one), his images didn't move (although, he mused, he could film the games if he wished), but his images were clear and he always got what he needed to show a good game.

There may be more pictures of James than others, but that was beside the point.

The match was reaching it's second hour with no sign of the snitch for either Seeker. Occasionally, Oliver used his camera to try and find it, but he made sure Sarah never noticed - she accused him of trying to cheat and tell James the first time he'd done it, when that actually hadn't crossed his mind; his only thought had been if finding the snitch first would make him better than James when he used it to gloat later.

So far, he'd had just as much luck in finding the small golden ball as Gryffindor and Slytherin had in trying to best each other. Slytherin were only winning by ten points, each team had only been surpassing each other by ten points since the game had started, and it was starting to get to both the teams and the spectators; the atmosphere was tense, the crowd torn between yelling and holding their breaths, and eyes were drawn to the Seekers like moths to a flame.

When Gryffindor got to the final for James' first year as captain, they said they didn't win because Xavier Sinclair had stepped down as captain for his seventh year, though he still played Seeker. James had been a Chaser then, like his namesake and his mother, and Xavier had been Seeker. He was considered the best even then, but had been unable to take charge due to personal reasons that had stopped him from coming to school. They gave the title to James. When he had come back in time for the first game, he didn't take the title back with his position. They said the pressure got to James, but that Xavier was a good teacher. When they won the next year, they said it was because James had the Seeker position, his natural position; with Xavier gone, James could have the spot. He wasn't as good as Xavier, but it didn't matter because he still won them the cup. Now everyone was expecting James to surpass that, to win the games and the cup, to be the best and maybe even follow Xavier's footsteps and go pro. Oliver often wondered why no one ever said it about Ryan, since he was the guy's cousin, but never asked because Ryan didn't seem to care.

Neither James nor Ryan, despite the odd joke, showed a real desire to play professionally.

The only time Oliver doubted that was during school games like this, when both were so focused that not even the pressure of yells and chants got to them. They could play for real if they wanted to, but Oliver hoped they wouldn't because he didn't want to stand so high in a real stadium.

A goal brought him out of his memories; Jen was like lightening on her broom, one minute Oliver had caught her on camera near the Gryffindor goal and the next she was the across the pitch, scoring a goal that left two Slytherins puzzled.

"Does she cheat somehow? Is her broom magic?" Oliver asked in shock.

Sarah shook her head, grinning. "She's been practicing since she was a kid. It helped her learn control. She's good, isn't she?" his friend said before he could ask why the girl needed to learn that.

Oliver brought his camera back up to take a picture of David scoring another goal; Sarah would like that. "Think she'll make captain next year?"

"Maybe," Sarah replied with a shrug. "I think she'll more likely get the job for her last two years. Next year will probably be Jake's time; it's what he's always wanted. To be like his dad."

Oliver nodded in agreement and hoped James would do that when the time came; Jake Wood was more lighthearted than his father and he didn't think of Quidditch as his life, but it was still their father/son thing, or so Oliver had been told once. Every time Quidditch came up, Jake mentioned his dad and how much being captain would make the older man proud. Next year would be Jake's final year, so he was starting to think he'd never get that chance.

Personally, Oliver thought that Jake's dad put a little too much pressure on his son, but his friend never complained or said anything that made Oliver think Mr. Wood would be very disappointed if he didn't make captain, he figured Jake had built it up in his head, and Jake did love to play so it wasn't like he had been forced into anything he didn't want to do, so Oliver never said anything.

Might mention something to James, though.

Conversation stilled when Sarah started yelling; a foul had been committed between her brother and a Slytherin beater that seemed highly uncalled for, in her opinion, but no one else had seen it because James had found the snitch. From his camera lens, Oliver tracked the boy's movements as he sped around the pitch, his body lowering to the broom to gain a faster advantage, his hand outstretched the closer he got. He didn't look for Slytherin's Seeker, he didn't seem to care where she was at all; his eyes were focused straight head, he only wanted one thing.

The crowd was silent, the only noise being the near constant clicking of Oliver's camera if you were close enough to hear it; he documented almost all of James' movements, from finding the snitch to catching it.

He caught the moment James' hand curled around the small ball just in time.

One side of the pitch roared with excitement, the other side booed until their throats were probably hoarse, and the Gryffindor team flew to congratulate James; it was something they did every game, since long before James was in charge, and it never seemed to get old because it was due to all of the hype; winning meant cheering and celebrating no matter what.

Oliver moved his camera to the middle of the pitch, to where the two teams had come together, intending to take one more picture of them when he caught sight of someone else. Dion wasn't quite with the rest of them, but hovering slightly above them all, content to watch and laugh along. He mostly seemed to be looking for something, or someone - Oliver realized too slow who that might be when Dion stopped at him, his smile growing a little bigger. He assumed it was because everyone knew he was taking pictures and the boy wasn't surprised, but then Dion winked before turning away.

Oliver lowered his camera down, both surprised and confused as he wondered what the hell that had been for. Then fear steadily began to rise when one question forced itself to the front of his mind: Does he know about me?

But that couldn't be true, he told himself resolutely. He was so careful, even when around James; no one knew if they looked at him.

By the time Oliver had calmed himself down enough to take the picture again, the teams had long broken up and Sarah was nudging him to go.

***

"I can't believe it. We were so close."

Ryan dropped his head onto James' shoulder with a thud, causing them both to wince and halt their walk to the Great Hall, which quickly stopped everyone with them. James gingerly patted Ryan's shoulder before pushing his friend backward and away from him. The game had finished a few hours ago; after showers and a quick change, James and Ryan had met with Oliver, Sarah and Tucker by the lake, and the moment they'd sat down Ryan had started moaning about the game.

Even when time passed and dinner was ready to be served, he didn't stop. James had thought about hitting him across the head with a bludger, knocking Ryan unconscious seemed like a good idea; he quickly dismissed the foolish idea, though by the time they to got up to go to dinner he couldn't remember his reasons for thinking it was foolish.

Thankfully, his friends, both old and new, had managed to balance out the conversation; first by congratulating Gryffindor and teasing Ryan, then by changing the topic every time Quidditch came back around - Oliver was the most relieved by this, James was quick to notice, but even fans like himself were getting bored of it.

The topic moved onto Christmas plans as they walked, and though it was only the beginning of November, and he wasn't the type to plan ahead, James found himself enjoying listening to everyone's else's plans; Ryan was looking forward to going skiing with his family as his cousins were joining them, including Xavier, and Sarah couldn't wait to cook the Christmas dinner this year. Even Tucker had plans with his parents; it was only Oliver who looked as clueless as James did.

His mind had drifted off to think of ways they could hang out during the holiday when Tucker nudged him in the shoulder and informed him that Jake and Dion were waving them over.

Sliding onto the bench across from his teammates and friends, James nodded along and covered his plate, ignoring all talk surrounding him; he hadn't eaten since his late breakfast, not wanting a too full stomach during the game by eating at lunch, and now he was starving. Talk, in his mind, could come later.

Words got through here and there, school, Quidditch and Hogsmeade between the most common (there wasn't much that a person could do in a boarding school hidden in the middle of nowhere, magical or otherwise); he blocked them all out until a certain name came up.

"So, did you help with the game at all, Dion, or was Oliver way more interesting?" Ryan asked, his tone far too innocent to be genuine.

James' head snapped up so fast something clicked; his eyes went to Dion, who blushed, then to Oliver, who kept his eyes on his pate, and finally to Ryan, who had decided to join the Gryffindor table and was currently staring at them with a wide grin and, because James had no other way to describe it, a twinkle in his eyes.

"What?" he asked, dumbfounded.

"Chew before you talk, Potter," Sarah snapped, disgusted. James wiped at his chin... just in case.

"I was watching Oliver take pictures, tried to guess what part of the games he was getting," Dion admitted quietly, his face still red though he was determined to keep eye contact.

Ryan winked. "Didn't look like it."

Dion muttered something about not caring what Ryan thought, but James had stopped listening again. His stomach dropped and, his appetite gone, he pushed his plate away from him. Something stirred within him, clawed at his insides and forced its way up his throat like bile. Maybe it was.

If James didn't know any better, though he liked to think he did, he would tell himself it was jealousy he was feeling, mixed with an intense desire to hurt two people he normally considered friends. But that was just stupid.

Neither he nor Oliver said anything on the subject, both apparently partaking in the unspoken agreement to ignore it.

Ryan caught his eyes for a second, the second being all he needed to waggle his eyebrows suggestively and smirk knowingly.

Knocking Ryan unconscious doesn't seem like such a foolish idea now.



A/N: Finally got a new chapter posted, I'm so sorry for the wait. I hope you enjoyed reading it, please let me know what you think. :)

Sam.

Chapter 11: Thankful For You
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In the weeks since the first game, everything settled down; Quidditch practice and games became too regular an occurrence for the excitement to stay, so it remained solely for games; homework piled up just enough for it to keep people busy, but not complaining (too much); and Hogsmeade visits for the sixth and seventh years, who were allowed to go every weekend, slowed to once or twice a month. All rumors that were often spread around after the summer were pretty much nonexistent; people talked among themselves still, they just didn't have the time to talk to others.

Oliver was officially background noise again, no matter what he did or who he was with. They didn't care. The only one who wanted to get to him was Melanie, but that was solely because of James not a rumor.

He was so glad to have his life back to normal, to be able to wallow in peace. Wallowing was inevitable around the end of November, though only Sarah and Ryan knew why. He wasn't even sure if James ever noticed; he was mostly happy to keep it that way. Sure, he had daydreams of James noticing little things like his moments of sadness, but overall he was glad not to have any drama that might come with James' big mouth getting the rest of the school involved.

He was halfway through his dinner when someone finally nudged him and demanded to know what was wrong. Sarah tried to shut whoever it was up, having kept the others quiet for most of the day, but Oliver waved her away and accepted the inevitable - he'd just tell them he'd had a bad day, it was partly true anyway.

Whoever asked - Oliver didn't care enough to look up at them - believed him about his bad day without a second thought. She replied with an 'Oh' that was longer than he cared for and struck up a conversation with another.

"He's sad because it's Thanksgiving and he's not having dinner with his family. Or preparing for dinner; it's, what, one in the afternoon in Florida. When do you have dinner?"

James flopped into the seat next Oliver and watched, confused, as people gaped; Sarah's and Ryan's jaws dropped considerably more than everyone else's. Oliver, though he was just as shocked as the rest of them, chose amazement as the emotion everyone else got to see; his eyes widened and a small smile found its way on his face.

He did notice.

"How do you know this?"

James shrugged awkwardly and focused on piling food onto his plate. "You're always sad around this time, the last Thursday of the November. So I looked it up, checked for American holidays and anything that might make you sad. Thanksgiving was the only thing that fit. Do your family make it special?"

"Half of us watch the parade and the other half watch the football, we play soccer in the garden, help make dinner and eat together in the dining room." The smile dropped as he remembered his family, all the way in Jacksonville; his grandmother with his aunts would be preparing their food and his cousins would be outside playing soccer because their grandmother had banned football after Oliver had accidentally thrown it through a window when he was eight. "I haven't celebrated Thanksgiving with them since I moved here. My parents can't take me out of school and even if they did, we can't afford to go every year."

"You said 'I haven't' not 'we haven't'; do your parents go sometimes?"

"No, this is the first year they've gone back," he told James, though everyone around them seemed to be listening. "My Granddad was in hospital, so my parents got time off to go home; they won't be back until I go home for Christmas."

"No wonder you're sad."

The blasé tone used would have annoyed Oliver if he hadn't come to know James better in the last couple of months; up until last year, he'd complained, moaned and even wanted to hate the guy for his crude and childish behavior, for the way he never seemed to care about anyone or anything. But now he knew that James did care; he didn't show it the way most did, he'd spent his whole life reading things in the paper about his own family that he'd taught himself to grow accustomed to them and not react, and he'd being doing so for so long that it became a part of life. It was the things James did that counted.

It sucked because Oliver didn't want more reasons to love him, though he was glad he didn't have feelings for a douche.

"Yeah, no wonder," was all he said and went back to his meal.

He ignored the sly look on James' face, the almost twinkle in his eyes; he could only have imagined it.

***

People filed out of the hall at various times after dinner, some leaving the moment they were done and others staying behind to chat with friends of various Houses. Oliver left shortly after finishing, claiming to have an essay he needed to finish, but James knew he was hiding away to continue wallowing alone until bed. He missed his family and his home and they thought wallowing was justified now that they knew.

Watching him leave, James made sure the man was out of the hall and counted down the seconds until he knew Oliver was far, far away. With a satisfied nod, he turned to face the rest of the group.

"Are we all ready for Saturday?" he asked, receiving more nods in reply.

"I've just got a few things to go through with the house elves and we're good to go," Sarah added. "Thanks for talking to Frankie for me. He was a big help."

"My order is coming in on Saturday morning, I've gotta pick it up. It coincides with our plans perfectly... as long as he doesn't notice," Emily said next, leaning in closer to ask in a quieter voice, "Why are you doing this anyway?"

James shrugged, playing cool and acting as though it was nothing. "He's gone through enough crap thanks to me and my life, don't you think? This feels like a nice apology."

For the most part, his friends - the closest few of a much larger group - seemed to believe him and even agree. They parted with their plan fresh in their minds, ready to take on Saturday. James trailed behind Tucker, Sarah, Roxanne and Aidan, going over what he needed to do, but only in bed did he think about the reasons why.

He wasn't completely sure of his motives, nor did he really understand why he wanted it so badly, all he knew was that the one he was doing all of this for was worth it.

If this didn't get Oliver Ford's attention, James didn't know what would.

***

Things were back to normal on Friday; Oliver only allowed wallowing on Thanksgiving and not a day earlier or later. It wasn't like he could change things and this was his last year of school, so he was already planning and saving to be home for Thanksgiving next year; there was just no point in wallowing.

No one talked about dinner or Oliver's family and what he'd said; it was like it had never happened. Things changed so often at Hogwarts, he was sure he had whiplash if he tried to keep up. He wouldn't keep up, but it was safer to know a bit of what went on, lest someone sneak up on him and try to kill him.

Metaphorically... He hoped.

These people are insane.

Early Saturday morning was when things changed. Being shaken awake was not what he had in mind when he went to bed the night before and looking up to find James and Tucker sat on either end of his bed was a huge, slightly unpleasant surprise.

"What's going on?"

"James scheduled Quidditch practice for tomorrow morning instead of this morning and since we're all pretty much up-to-date on our homework -"

"Some of us are," James interrupted with a smirk.

Tucker chose to ignore that and continued as though his friend hadn't said a word. "We have decided to have breakfast in Hogsmeade. So get dressed, or we'll make you."

"He means it," James whispered with a wink, nudging Tucker off the bed to give Oliver privacy.

"I mean it?" he yelled back. "It was your idea to make him! In fact -"

He was pushed out of the room and the door was slammed shut before Oliver could hear any more. Shaking his head in disbelief, he threw the covers off himself and made his way to his trunk; better to get his clothes together and then undress, just in case someone came to check on him. Getting caught starkers probably wouldn't go down very well.

Unless James came in...

He grabbed his first clean pair of underwear and some jeans, kicking his pajama bottoms off and getting them both on in record time. No, he wasn't going to take that kind of chance.

***

"So why the morning out with breakfast included?" was the first thing Oliver asked when their meals had been served and the group had settled down.

Ryan stuffed his mouth with sausage, replying with his mouth still full, "The last time we came out, it was Bonfire Night. It seemed like a nice change."

"And that's all?"

Sarah frowned, picked off her toast and nibbled on it. She was careful to look him in the eye just long enough for it to not appear to be suspicious, but Oliver had been looking for it; suspicion was an understatement.

"What more do you want?" she asked.

"You lot have been weirder than usual for half the week," he pointed out, watching them all turn away and hide smiles. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say you were planning something."

"Good job you know better then," James grinned.

Looking more smug than every other person at the table, Tucker raised an eyebrow and winked, fork pointed at Oliver's chest. "Him knowing better doesn't mean that he doesn't think we're planning something; he just knows not to ask."

Those words offered further proof in Oliver's mind that his friends were up to something, was more than the sly looks and smiles could ever be, but whatever it was he knew it was happening soon because they were no longer trying to hide it, even if they weren't mentioning it.

Oliver had to admit, he was intrigued.

***

After breakfast, the group maneuvered Oliver from one shop to the other, staying long enough to call it browsing but never buying. Except sweets, of course; they filled bags, and only when enough of them were full did they fill their pockets. Well, James and Ryan did; one bag was enough for Oliver, Sarah preferred savory snacks and Tucker was diabetic. The only question uttered that had anything to do with their plan was to ask where Emily was, since she was normally part of the main group as well, but all he got was a vague 'around', so Oliver decided to drop it. The morning was turning out to be quite nice; he had hopes high enough for the surprise that he felt it was alright to play along.

They made it back to the school for lunch, the others puzzling Oliver further by bypassing the entrance in favor of the grounds. After a large breakfast and half a bag of sweets, he wasn't particularly hungry, but the guys with him, using the 'I'm a growing boy' and the 'we're athletes, we need to keep our strength up' excuses often, could eat their weight in food and still not get full - their words not his. Which meant that not going to lunch was too weird for them.

On a patch of grass on the grounds, not too far from the lake, was when things started to make sense.

Emily, Dion and a number of other friends from the group had already banded together, with a basket by a tree with sandwiches inside (a couple were already eating) and a ball being kicked around. Jake scooped it up into his arms the moment he saw them approach and threw it over. Oliver ran to catch it, jumping a little off the ground to do so successfully.

"Since you're the one who really knows how to play, you can teach us," he called out, murmurs of agreement following.

"You wanna play soccer?" Oliver asked incredulously.

"No, we want to play football," James countered.

He attempted to spin the ball on the tip of his finger, managing an awkward half spin before catching it. "This is soccer. Footballs are oval shaped."

James shook his head. "No, that's rugby."

"That's football, this is soccer and no one even mentioned rugby. And you're just messing with me," Oliver added when James began to laugh. "I hate you."

Still grinning, the slightly taller boy stole the ball and tucked it under one arm, throwing his other over Oliver's shoulders as he lead him to the rest of the group. "You're in the UK now, America, with your house in England and school in Scotland; so be British and speak like us."

"I'll stick with my American accent, words and customs, since my family are back home and Sarah is apparently coming with me I have no reason to stay here after graduation, but thank you," he said mockingly.

The humor dried up quickly when he noticed the odd look on James' face, the weird sense of disappointment in his eyes and in the air, and he didn't know what the emotion was for. It couldn't be because Oliver didn't want to stay in the UK; he'd said it before and never gotten that kind of reaction. He told himself he was imagining it, the lie easier to listen to when James shook it off and started smiling again.

Remembering his want to go home reminded Oliver of how much he'd miss that smile.

"I guess I'll just have to give you a reason to stay then," his crush whispered, leaning in too close and then pushing away and spinning on his heel, so his back was to him.

Damn it, Potter!

"Since you've decided Ollie here will be teaching you to play, he can be captain number one. Since I also know how to play, a fact you have conveniently forgotten, and I have captain experience, I will be captain number two. Yes?" Oliver barely heard the speech, only knew that James was talking to him when he was nudged and the 'yes' was repeated, so he nodded quickly. "Good. Tucker, get your butt over here."

Brushing away every inappropriate thought detailing just how James could persuade him to stay in the UK, Oliver picked Dion for his team first, just to spite the brunet by his side.

A brunet who, strangely enough, looked like hell had frozen over and the devil was nearby.

***

A coin toss was to decide who would be shirts and who would be skins, the cold November weather apparently meaning nothing to the country's natives. It was both a blessing and a curse when James' team won the toss and chose skins - Oliver had no desire to undress in the cold, whether the sun was out or not, but seeing James with a shirt on was distraction enough.

Maybe it's cosmic punishment for selfishly picking Dion.

Although, throughout the game, whenever Oliver moved closer to a put a hand on Dion, he would catch James staring and pretending it was all down to jealousy almost made it worth it. That Dion seemed all to happy to reciprocate was not what either of them had in mind.

Apart from that, the game was more fun than Oliver could remember having in a while; he'd used to play soccer all the time back home, was even on a team, but after everything that had happened he'd lost interest participating with others. He hadn't spoken to his friends or teammates since he'd left Florida. The group of friends he had now weren't the best players in the world - granted, it wasn't a game they were used to playing - but that was what made it half the fun; there was no demand to be better, no rush to win, no competitive edge that ruined the game. They played to win, teasing and goading each other, but it was mixed with laughter and silliness.

If anything was to make Oliver stay, he knew it would be his friends.

They only stopped the game and headed in when the weather took a darker turn; horrible black clouds took away the last of the sun and thunder roared in the distance. Team Skins began to get cold and threw tops and coats back on, the feeling of material unpleasant when their bodies were coated with sweat from all their running around. Since Oliver hadn't taken his off, he'd become somewhat accustomed to the feeling.

"Okay," Ryan called out once they were all gathered around the entrance. "Shower or wash or whatever, then change, then we'll meet at the stairs for dinner." He pointed to the set close to the large, double the doors; the ones that went down to the dungeons. "Deal."

He wasn't asking. And the others didn't argue. Sarah pushed Oliver toward the other set of stairs, all of the group except for Ryan following them, and urged him to stop asking questions about Ryan and James and their strange behavior. She couldn't stop giggling as she spoke and he knew if he pushed her a little more she'd spill everything.

Unfortunately, she knew him just as much as he knew her and destracting each other was second nature.

"James couldn't keep his eyes of you today. Why is that?" his manipulative friend whispered in his ear. "Could it be because of the constant flirting and touching with Dion Halfpenny I saw? Honestly, Oliver, if you want to hide the fact that you're gay, you're doing a really bad job right now."

Oliver made sure no one was close by before leaning in and murmuring, "We weren't flirting, I was giving him instructions. And I don't know why James was watching me."

"Maybe because he likes you," she hinted.

"Or maybe it's because he suspects something and is trying to find proof," he muttered, forcing himself not to believe it. James never noticed things; he lived in a bubble and it wasn't allowed to pop.

"Well, if he has, who's fault is that?" Sarah scoffed, sobering quickly when she caught sight of the frightened look on Oliver's face, the doubt in his eyes. "Ollie, James only knows what you tell him. Look, we've been talking for a good few minutes and he's still messing with Tucker, completely clueless. So my idea is more plausable; he likes you. Or he feels something. No one matters enough to get James Potter to look up unless they're family, if it's important and they're lucky. And, since they've known each other from the bratty age of five, I include Tucker in that."

Oliver still looked skeptical. "You think?"

"You may think you know him because you love him, but all you know is his ass." Sarah smirked softly and thumped his shoulder in a friendly manner. "I've known him two and a half years longer than you. Trust me."

He could tell that she could tell he didn't trust her; there were many things she could say that would have him nodding willingly and agreeing without hesitation, but James Potter was not one of them. Never would be either, he guessed.

"Hurry up, you two!" Tucker yelled at the entrance to the common room.

James never batted an eye.

***

To say he was confused was another understatement; he was confused when he woke up this morning, he was confused in Hogsmeade and he was confused during the football game. But why they were standing outside of the kitchens was a complete and utter mystery he didn't know how to solve. The urge to open his mouth and blurt out everything running around in his head was strong, but he held it in - he'd promised Sarah he wouldn't ask questions, after all, and that would definitely break it.

Instead he waited as Jake tickled the pear and pushed open the portrait door for everyone to enter. The first thing Oliver noticed was the smell; sage stuffing and beef gravy not quite masking the unmistakeable scents of roast potatoes and turkey. Next he saw the makeshift paper banner - a well-made banner, he had to admit - that floated above the table and said 'Happy Thanksgiving' in gold. Then he saw Ryan and Emily by the table, proudly gesturing to the meal placed in the center.

And Oliver could only think of one thing to say. "Thanksgiving was on Thursday."

Ryan dropped his arms and huffed. "Ungrateful little shit, isn't he?"

"He's just surprised," Sarah promised with a laugh. "It comes out ruder than he intends it to be, but he means well."

"At home, I hang out and play soccer and have dinner," he voiced out loud, taking in everything they did today and matching it with everything he told them on Thursday night. "You did this for me?"

"A few days ago, James mentioned how his cousin's friend Frankie was American and that they'd be going out on Thursday because he doesn't celebrate Thanksgiving anymore," Dion started with an awkward shrug.

Emily continued, "We remembered how sad you'd be every year around this time and we realized how much it must suck to live in a completely new country and not do the things you used to anymore. So since it's your final year, we thought you shouldn't be sad during it and planned this."

"But Digby said no to Thursday because of the house elves cooking for the whole school and class the next day, but on Saturdays things are more lax because people go out to eat at different times, so the house elves were okay adding a turkey to the menu and letting us eat here, and there's no class tomorrow, so we can do whatever we want - within reason - all night."

Tucker finished with an assured nod, looking like an overexcited bobbing dog, which made everyone laugh and copy teasingly.

"Thank you," Oliver told them sincerely, turning to every one of them. He left James for last... and he understood everything.

Winking, James made a move for the table. "Let's eat."

They did. It wasn't as extravagant as the dinners his grandmother was known for, but it was with his friends and that made it just as good in its own right. And when they went around the table to say what they were thankful, he was honest when he said he was thankful for them.

Despite Tucker's words that they had all night, they only stayed in the kitchen for a couple of hours, eating desserts and drinking butterbeer until they were full. Around eleven, Emily got up to go, claiming to want an early night to finish her homework tomorrow morning, and when Ryan announced that he'd escort her to her room, the others soon began to go their separate ways.

With another hour until the curfew for seventh years and the sixth years not willing to go to bed, the Gryffindor common room was still far from empty when they got back. Sarah was called away by a girl in her dorm, said goodnight to Oliver before leaving, and since the girl was sat with Roxanne and Aidan Tucker decided to join them, leaving Oliver and James to make their way to the dorm alone.

Despite the silence, the atmosphere between them wasn't exactly awkward, but something was different between them - Oliver could feel the change in James; it was like a warm hand drawing circles around his neck to produce shivers every time they caught each other's gazes - and he just didn't know what to say to bring it up.

In the dorm, James grabbed his pajama pants and a towel and excused himself to take the shower he'd skipped before. Alone, Oliver changed and focused on what he wanted to say, deciding to forget about whatever was changing between him and James for now; he didn't know enough to even think of going down that road with the guy. He'd wait. But he did know one thing and that was easy to talk about.

When James stepped into the dorm again fifteen minutes later, Oliver was ready. He watched James drop his things onto the lid of his trunk and fiddle with his watch, trying to take it off and put it on his bedside table. Oliver came to stand behind him, causing the other boy to jump when he turned around.

"Thank you for today, you didn't have to," he said sincerely. He interrupted when James tried to deny it. "You mentioning Louis and Frankie is too weird for you, you don't know half the things your family does. But you knew that or you lied about it; you dropped a hint for the others. This was your idea. Thank you."

"You're welcome," he replied, wisely choosing not to argue. He moved a little closer.

Oliver worked hard to not look at him, it became even harder when the noticed the water droplets still on him from his shower fall down bare skin.

"Goodnight, James."

He rushed back to bed as fast as he could without wanting to look like he was rushing. James must have caught it, though, because he chuckled softly. "Goodnight, Oliver."

***

The Florida sun shone brightly through the large windows, leaving no shadow untouched in the kitchen. Outside, the sounds of small children could be heard running around, splashing in the pool and squealing in joy. In the lounge, people were laughing and joking, while in the den there was cheering for the football score.

Oliver finished his glass of water and rinsed it out before placing it upside down on the drain by the sink.

"There you are," a familiar voice called out to him.

Oliver spun around and leant against the sink, finding James dripping wet from being pushed into the pool. His swim shorts were stuck to his legs and his hair was flat on his head.

"You're missing out on swim time," James scolded.

"You mean 'let's mess with Ollie's boyfriend' time," he countered with a grin.

"Well, that too." James rolled his eyes playfully and curled a finger at Oliver, wanting him to follow. He did so eventually, taking James' hand and allowing himself to be pulled closer.

James rested his head on Oliver's, hands wrapping around each other so they were both wet. "Thank you for bringing me here."

"I think they love you more than me," he joked.

"More of you for me then."

Oliver laughed at that, but dropped it quickly and frowned when his boyfriend didn't. "What is it?"

"Don't you see yet?" James asked softly. He shook his head and James smiled. "You will. When you stop doubting and look."

His fingers found their way into Oliver's hairs, making him better able to grip him and kiss him. It was sweet and slow and too short in both of their opinions.

Then the alarm went off.

***

Shutting off quickly, Oliver fell back against the pillow and tried to remember the dream he'd just had, glancing at a still sleeping James as he did so. The real James wasn't one for riddles, he'd just tell you if he knew something and wanted you to know, so he knew he hadn't becom a Seer overnight; this was his subconscious showing him things he wanted and telling him things he already knew - something was going on with James Potter, something Oliver couldn't see yet, and he'd be damned if he didn't find out what that was.

Later, he decided; right now he wanted to wallow in bed for a dream he desperately wanted to come true.



A/N: Hey guys! New chapter.

Since Oliver is American and most of this story is Oliver's PoV, it seemed only natural to put soccer instead of football. I don't know much about Thanksgiving, only want it's for, bits I've seen on TV and stuff I googled, but Oliver liked his makeshift one. :)

I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please let me know what you think. :)

Sam.

Chapter 12: About James Potter
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Christmas was coming.

In couple of weeks and there was still another week of school until they finished for the holiday. But that didn't stop people from planning, preparing and obsessing over what to get, who to give what to and if they were likely to get the same. Among other things Oliver had heard people complain about. He supposed that with Quidditch done for the holiday - the Hufflepuff v Ravenclaw game was just after Thanksgiving - and the weather too cold for the four teams to train every day, it was logical that Christmas be the topic on everyone's mind when they needed a distraction from studying, but with no word from his parents to say when they were coming home he wasn't really in a festive mood.

Rather than sit in the common room with the rest of his friends and finish their Charms homework, Oliver excused himself to grab Potions books from the library and catch up on his reading. He left the tower with every intention of finding the books he wanted and coming back, but once he stepped inside the quiet room, started to relish in the calm and solitude it presented, Oliver decided to stay.

If his friends needed or wanted him, they'd know where to look.

Spotting a table close to the Potions section of the library, Oliver dropped his bag onto the table, thankful he'd had the foresight to bring it to carry any books in, and searched through the selection of books. As much as he hated the subject, he wanted a good grade, not just to pass, so he spent almost half an hour looking for information that not only told him what he needed to learn but also things he could use to further his knowledge and maybe give him extra credit.

Once he had what he hoped was a good selection, Oliver spread them around the table, grabbed his notebook and a pen from his book and began to read, making notes of things he considered important or useful. In the quiet, with only Potions as the focus, he was able to push through studying; he had a few pages of notes and had almost finished the first book when someone dropped their own stuff down and sat beside him.

Oliver glanced upward, not wanting to stop when his mind was finally focused and the information was sticking, and nodded in greeting before pretending that James wasn't in the room. It became normal quickly, so normal that the thought of what James must be thinking about managed to cross his mind briefly, and they spent a better part of an hour in complete silence.

During that time, Oliver figured out that when he set his mind to it the majority of healing potions could be worked out, named and even made (albeit a little badly), but the serious ones and poisons, potions so complex and dangerous that a single wrong ingredient could kill a patient or explode on the maker, were a bitch.

The explanations weren't sinking in and he had no idea how he'd pass the practical when the instructions were frying his brain.

"Shit," he exclaimed, breaking the silence and earning himself a stern look from the librarian. He threw his pen down on the table and leaned back, catching the edge of the bench with his hands before he slid off. He turned to James. "This is gonna kill me. Literally. I can just see the damn thing blowing me up."

"That's not true," James soothed. "The potions we have to make aren't that dangerous; Neville Longbottom, our Herbology professor, was never very good at potions either. And Mickey Finnigan's dad Seamus... well, let's not go there. But he's alive."

The glare James received earned an apology.

"Tell you what. No listen to me," James ordered, cupping Oliver's face in his hands to get him to turn his head and look at him. "I'll tutor you in Potions. I'm good, you know I am. A few nights a week, for a couple of hours, and you'll have an Outstanding by the end of the year. If you don't, I'll never play Quidditch again."

"So sure of yourself, I see," Oliver replied, oddly impressed. "Alright."

"Alright, but it's not for free," James told him quickly. "I need a little help with Transfiguration. Not as much help as you need from me, so you don't need to worry about me slacking with your studies, but some of the bigger spells. Like for Animagi; that just goes in one ear and out the other. Don't laugh," he scolded, his own lip twitching in an effort not to smile. "Potions is hands on work, measurements and stuff, and that's easy to focus on. But Transfiguration is all about focusing the mind, concentrating; I can't do that. They never turn out right."

"Transfiguration for Potions?" Oliver mused, biting his lip as he pretended to think.

James groaned, the look on his face clear; he knew he was being played, but he also knew he had to play along anyway. "I'll let you visit my secret spot again."

"Deal."

They shook on it, one dramatic shake to promise they'd tutor each other, and James pulled the book into the middle to go through poisons.

***

"I officially never want to be an Animagus," James moaned, resting his head in his hand. "I don't know how my granddad and his friends managed it as kids and I don't care; I don't like it and it isn't happening."

Smiling in reassurance, Oliver closed the book. "You're over-thinking it, which I think is a miracle for you by the way. We'll look at it again later."

Used to jabs about his inabilities to pay attention and take things seriously, he only smirked and nodded, pushing the book away from them and twisted his body around to look at Oliver properly.

He still didn't understand what was going on between them or why he wanted to get closer to the American, which - he guessed - was more because of what he was always accused of than simply being clueless. If he tried hard and really thought about why, James knew the answer would come to him straight away. He wasn't an idiot; his marks and test scores could prove that, as well as his many essays. But he decided he didn't want to; just watching was enough right now.

Oliver was funny and smart and determined and a whole bunch of adjectives that James could use if ever asked to describe the boy by his side, and he got them all by simply watching him. By getting to know him. It felt more natural, better than analyzing everything about him and between them. So James wasn't going to that; seeing where things go was his best option.

"What?" Oliver asked curiously, frowning.

James dropped his arm, a little embarrassed to have been caught staring, and shrugged awkwardly.

"Would you ever become an Animagus?"

"No," Oliver answered immediately. It was slow enough for James to know he was being honest; Oliver talked rapidly, like he had a timer on him that he had to beat, when he was lying. James had noticed when he'd looked back on any conversations they'd had or he'd overheard.

"Why not?"

Shrugging, Oliver saddled the bench so they were sat face-to-face. "It just never appealed to me. I have enough trouble trying to be me, I don't want to be something else. Besides, the animal you become is supposed to be a reflection of your character and I'd rather not see mine. It'd be something really embarrassing. You said your grandfather was one?"

"Yeah, he was a stag," James told him. "I'm named after him and his best friend, who was a dog. They had another friend; he was a rat, which says a lot about his character. They did it because they wanted to be with the fourth friend in the group, who was a werewolf."

"Your big brother's real dad."

Surprised he knew, James' eyes widened a little as he smiled. "Yeah. They all died before I was born. Ted was just a baby. My dad was going through a lot of crap back then, didn't know how to handle things; he told us once that being with Ted, being his godfather, was one of the only things that brought him real joy. They became very close; Ted knows about his parents and he loves them in his own way, but my dad is the only dad he's ever known and that tends to be what he calls him."

"Not your mum?" Oliver asked next, a little confused.

"No." James shook his head at the same time. "Ted loves my mum, but she had school and then Quidditch in the beginning, whereas my dad was there for him his whole life, so he's not as close with her. She doesn't get 'Mum'. I thought you didn't know or care about my family and this country's history?"

"I never said that, I said I don't hold them in the same regard as everyone else because I didn't grow up with it," Oliver corrected with a stern look, showing how serious he was. James found himself feeling grateful for that. "But I do know about your history, I do take History as a subject, and I do care about them and what they did."

"Why?"

Oliver thought long and hard about his answer. "Because if your father hadn't won, the war would have spilled out across the world eventually. And because they're your family and you're my friend; I care about my friends and the things they consider important. You may not follow their lives or care about their gossip, but you care about them. They're important to you."

"Most of them anyway," James joked. "There's a running joke between my dad and his friend Theo - Alexa's dad and Scorpius's uncle - that my dad didn't win the war, he just drank the alcohol and took the credit."

It took a good few minutes of laughter before Oliver was able to ask why.

"To find something to laugh about, however little," he admitted once things had died down. "This was close to the second anniversary and Dad was... calmer about things; he said he didn't want to speak about what happened and when someone asked why, Theo made the bad joke. It stuck."

James could see that Oliver found it so ridiculous he didn't understand why a joke like that would last for so long, but his friend wasn't around to see the impact of a war, both for the winning and the losing side. Even as a child James had noticed things, remembered times his father would do or say something off, that would be pushed away just as fast. Everyone did something to distance themselves - including Harry Potter.

He opened his mouth to tell Oliver that, to explain, when the slam of a door startled them both and heavy footsteps slammed against the floor. The librarian called for whoever it was to slow down, trying hard not to shout herself. Neither saw who it was until a small boy turned into their section and ran right for James.

The boy, a second year Gryffindor seen hanging around the group once or twice, pulled himself onto the desk, bunched James' t-shirt in his hands and hid himself behind his back. Not able to turn around to see the kid and his collar growing tighter around his neck, James attempted to pull the boy's hands off.

He didn't let go until the older boys following him spotted James and ran the other way. Peeking over James' shoulder, the boy watched them leave, let go and slid across the desk again to sit in between the seventh years. He rested his arm on top of James' shoulder.

"Hey you. Long time, no see."

James scoffed. "What did you do?"

"A little of this, a little of that, but they started it," the kid defended himself strongly. He was interrupted by Oliver clearing his throat. "Hi."

"Oh, sorry," James told him. "Oliver, this is Bernard Dursley, my cousin. Bernie, this is Oliver Ford, my friend."

"I'm the non-Weasley," Bernie added with a sardonic grin. "It's way more fun being me."

"I don't understand what he's saying to me," Oliver said to James.

"Bernie is only related to my dad, he's Dad's cousin's son," James explained. "His Muggle grandmother is my magical grandmother's sister and Bernie is the only one to have magic as well."

"Harry calls it Evan's Blood," Bernie said. "Says I'm not like the others, my grandparents. Mostly my granddad now. Well, he's the only one who's vocal about not liking magic. He's an asshole." He nudged James in the arm. "Can I stay with you for Christmas? If I go home, I'll have to visit them. I wanna go to the Burrow; Molly makes me cookies and Charlie teaches me about dragons and George teaches me magic."

"Well, Dad is usually the one who picks you up, so ask him at the station. He'll probably say yes," James answered.

His cousin sighed, and then nodded in determination. "I'll write him a letter in a bit. No, I'll go to the Muggle Room; Hugo should be there to help me work it. I can text."

"Sounds like a plan," Oliver approved, getting up and packing his things away. "I should go; since we're both here, no one is making sure Sarah doesn't murder Tuck. Besides, I need to check for mail. See you later, James. Nice to meet you, Bernie."

They watched him go, one cousin staring at Oliver's back while the other glimpsed between the two of them in amusement. As he watched the boy leave, James fell back against the table.

"That's Oliver," James said softly when he was gone.

"Yeah..." Bernie's smile turned into a smirk as he looked his cousin up and down, causing James to frown and demand to know what he was thinking. "I thought Louis was the gay cousin," was all he said in reply.

"He is." James' frown deepened, his mind whirling with thoughts he'd promised not to think about. It took all he had to push them all away. "I'm not gay, Bernard."

The small boy said nothing, only smiled and walked away; to find Hugo, he guessed. James didn't call him back for more, he never wanted to hear what his youngest cousin had to say if it was at all possible; instead he packed his stuff away and walked out of the library, his mind on himself. He looked back on his life, hoping there would be a clue as what was going on with him; he ignored Oliver and anything to do with him, that wasn't important. He remembered laughing with girls in primary school, going on dates, his first real relationship with Melanie and his first time; for the most part, he'd enjoyed it all, even the beginning of his relationship. They'd been brief yet genuine, which he didn't think would be true if he was gay - Louis had said once what it was like for him to date a girl; it hadn't felt right.

I'm not gay, he told himself resolutely. Then he thought about his growing feelings for Oliver. But am I straight?

***

It wasn't until after dinner when Oliver finally heard from his parents. Sitting in front of the fire in the Gryffindor common room, Oliver had swapped homework for a novel and was lying across one of the chairs when a prefect came in and handed him the letter. No words were said, nothing that might say what it was about and the girl turned away immediately after handing it over, but Oliver recognized his father's handwriting as soon as he turned it over and saw his name on the front.

Pushing his book to the side, Oliver opened the envelope and took out the letter. It was long, three pages with everything to do with his grandfather's health, how his family were doing and what was going on. Near the end, his dad got to the weather. It was fine in Jacksonville, if a little cold, but further north there was an unnatural amount of snow and it was worse in the UK - Oliver had noticed. It didn't seem safe to fly home.

We're stuck here in the US. Your grandma's orders. I don't think we'll be home for Christmas.

"What's the matter, Ollie?" Roxanne asked, sitting on the arm of the chair.

"My parents won't be home for Christmas, I'll have to stay here," he muttered, scrunching it up into a ball and throwing it to the floor.

"You don't have anywhere else you can go?" Tucker enquired next. Everyone listening knew why; not many people were staying at Hogwarts this year and none of them were his friends. He'd be all alone.

Oliver shook his head. "The only family I have in England are my parents. The rest of my family are in Florida."

"Stay with one of us," Tucker offered, earning a raised eyebrow from Oliver and Aidan. "You can stay with -"

"James," Roxanne interrupted. "You can stay with James."

It took a few minutes and the knowledge that he'd kept her relationship with Aidan a secret for so long that gave Oliver the confidence to look suspicious rather than fearful of her sudden request. He didn't want her to know about him, but she would keep it quiet because he had for her.

"Why James?"

"James is the most logical." Roxanne shrugged, not even a hint of an ulterior motive could be seen. He didn't necessarily believe her, she was sharp and quick and could be a great liar when she wanted to be, but he was willing to let her explain. "Out of all of us, Harry is the one most likely to say yes to a snap decision like this; other families have Christmas plans and stuff they want to do that can't accommodate a surprise guest. But our family Christmases are as quiet as a large family's can be and fairly routine. I'd offer for you to stay at mine, but you've never met my dad and he'll use that opportunity to test his products on you. At least you've met Harry. You have met Harry, right?"

Oliver nodded once.

"You see my logic. Stay with James."

"Who's staying with James?" asked James himself, stopping behind to lean on the couch.

"Oliver's parents are stuck in Florida and he has nowhere to go for Christmas because he is not staying here alone," Roxanne told him with a grin. "You're going to ask your dad if he can stay with you. Not your mum, she'll ask about space and the others first, but your dad will say yes straight away. Call him tomorrow morning, Hugo knows how to work his phone."

"Roxie, you know how I said I love when you boss me around?" Aidan spoke out, his eyes still on his work. "I'm the only one."

She stuck her tongue out at him, which became a contest between them to see how far they could get, until James snapped his fingers. "As true as your wolf boy is, I'll call Dad in the morning. If I don't, she'll kill me," he whispered to Oliver, winking.

Oliver allowed himself to smile, but inside he was screaming about how terrible an idea this was. His heart beat madly, pounding against his chest like it was desperate to break free at the thought of spending the holiday with his crush.

It was one thing to share a dorm, but sharing a house, his family and Christmas with him was another thing entirely. This wasn't school, this was real life.

This was too much.



A/N: So this is my JulNo, which means chapters should be coming a lot faster. Twelve chapters down, twelve more to go. :D

I hope you enjoyed this one. Please let me know what you think. :)

Chapter 13: Meeting the Family
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The moment the last class before Christmas was over there was a rush to finish packing. Excitement filled the air; talk of Christmas dinners and the giving and receiving of presents was part of what was overheard. But mostly, the students going home were excited to see their families after three and a half months of boarding school. Everything they talked about included a family member or two in some way. And that depressed Oliver more than anything.

He was down throughout dinner, Sarah packed most of his things because he was just aimlessly throwing things in, and for most of the train ride he was silent. This was so much worse than missing Thanksgiving; at least then he had the excuse of being in school to get past it. Knowing he might be among strangers, since he really only knew James and Roxanne, while his family were thousands of miles away really took the fun out of the holidays.

And he meant might. Whatever Hugo had done to his phone, it had been enough to get through to Harry Potter, but the call hadn't lasted. Despite the early hour James had called, work had already started for his father; for some reason, the holidays were always the worst for law enforcement, more so during Christmas and Halloween, and Mr. Potter, being Head Auror, had to hand out assignments and manage the interview process - even he wasn't present for them. He was also out in the field himself, solving his own cases and making arrests.

James said that his father would get back to him, but he either hadn't been able to because of the unreliable signal at school or couldn't because of his workload. They didn't even know if a family member was picking them up from the station or if they had to make their own way (by train or bus since only James had an Apparition license, but was banned from side-along by his parents because he hadn't concentrated and splinched Lily while he remained unharmed).

Oliver truly had no idea what was going to happen to him for Christmas. All he knew was that he was already on the train, so definitely couldn't stay at school. At least he had his house key and could go home if he had to. Not that he wanted to.

What if they said no? What if I have to spend Christmas alone?

Those were the thoughts circulating in his head as the train came to a stop.

He was shaken out of his reverie literally, a hand clamped to his shoulder to push him forward and throw him backward in rapid succession. Groaning, he forced the hand off him and turned to find Ryan sat next to him again (he'd left at some point on the train ride).

"We're here. Come on." The sigh he didn't mean to let slip was heard by them all. Smiling reassuringly, Ryan added, "Hey, they'll let you stay. We wouldn't have got you on this train if we weren't sure of that."

"Yeah," Tucker agreed. "Though I was all for leaving you at school to make Harry feel guilty for not letting James know their answer, forcing him to get you. It was overruled because Emily is a spoilsport."

James, his eyes narrowed at his best friend, pushed him out of the carriage. "Emily wasn't the only one who said no to that."

As much fun as it might have been to see a guilty Harry Potter, Oliver was glad his friends hadn't left him alone and offered his first real smile of the day. It was quickly returned by James, a wide and grateful one that had him looking away before he was caught with pink cheeks. Instead, he grabbed the duffel bag that was usually empty and rolled up at the bottom of his trunk, having only packed enough for the Christmas break and left his trunk at school.

Tucker, being the first one out of the carriage thanks to being pushed, led the group out of the train and onto the platform, where they all said their goodbyes and met with their own families. Awkward, Oliver stood with James and waited for his brother, sister and youngest cousin. His cousins passed, waving goodbye as they did so; Oliver wondered why they weren't going with one of them and an aunt or uncle, but James quickly explained that Roxanne was going to Aidan's and being picked up by his dad, while Hugo and Rose were going to make their way to the Ministry to meet their mum, so it was just him and his siblings.

Lily came first, chattering amicably with a friend about who knows what with Bernie falling behind, and barely noticed Oliver until he had to grab hold of her to keep from being walked into. Albus finally came as the platform was emptying, all alone unlike the last time they'd talked on the train.

"Friends already gone?" James asked as they started walking.

"Yeah. Why's he here?"

"It's rude to point, Albus," Bernie scolded, knocking his hand down. "And his name is Oliver. And he's staying with us this Christmas, don't you remember?"

Albus shook his head. "It didn't come up, no. Why is he staying? Is anyone coming for us? And who said Bernie was staying, for that matter?"

"No idea," James shrugged. "So we stick to the plan. And stop asking so many questions."

The plan, Oliver soon found out, was to look out for any sign of a family member while they walked, then wait at the entrance to the station for fifteen minutes, and then get the train home. With his emergency money, as well as his Oyster card, and theirs as well, they wouldn't be stranded.

They didn't need to worry about it, though; seconds after stepping outside, Bernie pointed to a tall man standing next to a large car. He had hair as red as Lily's, bits of gray streaking at the sides and all pulled into a ponytail, and across his face was a number of scars, like claw marks that hadn't quite healed but were faded enough to know they were old.

Oliver could guess who it was before it was said.

"Bill came!" Bernie called out and ran to the car in glee.

"Not all that surprising," James murmured into Oliver's ear, a slight smirk on his face. "At some point, thanks to having so many kids in an already big family, almost all of my uncles, two of my aunts and my parents have had to learn to drive at some point. My dad, Aunt Hermione and Uncle Bill are the only ones who have passed their tests without cheating."

"The first two grew up with Muggles," Oliver pointed out.

"Which is why I am the remarkable one," Bill Weasley said back, having heard them. "You must be Oliver. Harry said you were staying, he and Ginny agreed straight away. So one of you can tell Roxanne that her aunt doesn't appreciate being considered the bad guy who says no. Although for her to say yes without even wondering where you'd sleep - out loud anyway - you must have made a good impression the first time they saw you."

Lily scoffed, folding her arms across her chest and looking up to stare defiantly at her uncle. "He was in James' room half naked, came down in one of his shirts, was sarcastic and said he hated Quidditch; does that sound like a good first impression to you?"

"It sounds like an excellent first impression. Get in the car. Oliver in the front," he added, maneuvering him toward the door. "I don't trust Lily with other people."

"He kicked me off a bed and threw a book at me," she defended.

It didn't phase Bill. "You probably deserved it." He opened the door to the back of the car and waited for them all to climb in, before shutting the door. They were a little squished, having four in the back, but because Lily and Bernie were the smallest, sat in the middle and the car was big, it wasn't too much of a tight fit. Still, Oliver sat back in his seat at the front and silently thanked whoever was listening that he wasn't sat with them, unlike James. He also thanked them for the Potters saying yes to him staying, no matter how weird it felt to share the holiday with James.

He wasn't alone for Christmas; that was enough.

***

"Your parents will be home later, which means you've got the house to yourself and will probably have to cook tea. James not Lily," Bill said, watching her sternly. "Bernie, your mum will pick you up at some point. But you're allowed to come back to stay on Boxing Day, I think. And you'll be at the Burrow for New Year."

Bernie pouted and glared at the seat in front of him, but eventually nodded.

"You got your key, James?"

"Yep."

"In you go then. I'll see you soon. Nice to meet you, Oliver," he called out as they got out of the car. Oliver nodded and waved before shutting the door.

Once inside, Lily and Bernie ran into the kitchen to check for what they could eat and Albus ran to his room, no doubt to talk to his best friend Alexa even though he'd been with her for the whole train ride. That left James and Oliver alone in the hallway. On the little table where they left keys and the phone they used for when Dudley Dursley called, they found a note from Ginny Potter.

Made up a bed in James' room. We'll be home soon.
Mum.


"I'll take that," James told him softly, gesturing to the bag. Oliver handed it over. "Make yourself at home. I suggest you grab the remote before they do if you want to watch TV; they'll never let you have it otherwise."

"Thanks for the tip," Oliver chuckled, already suspecting that Lily would try to get her own way with everything. He turned into the living room, swiping the remote off the arm of the couch and flopped down on it; two minutes and he was already nervous.

Please get better.

***

Ginny Potter came home first; only the lamp in the room was on, the curtains were drawn and the house was silent except for the television. That unnerved her, but when she was told by James that Lily and Albus were in the rooms that made her unease worse. Neither teenager blamed the woman or tried to take away her negative feelings, they didn't know how; her daughter had been whispering to herself for most of the evening and they only saw Albus for a few seconds during dinner when he came for his plate before going back to his room.

Oliver didn't know much about Albus' habits, being the only Slytherin in the house, but Lily was no stranger. When she whispered, she plotted. And when she plotted, they were only a little less worse than Hugo's and tended to involve eavesdropping or potions. Sometimes both.

He never got in the way.

"When's Dad coming home?" James asked, hoping it would distract her a little.

It worked. Ginny rolled her eyes, dropped her files and shrugged off her coat, her arms resting on her hips to coincide with her huff. "He says before ten, but if Theo is involved you never know. I do know that he's given out the rest of the cases the department has, so he's officially on break till January. Thank God he's the boss. How have you been, Oliver? Settled in okay?"

"Yes. Thank you, Mrs. Potter," he answered warily. His nervousness had waned as time passed, he felt more at ease when it was just him and James and he could think it was like being in the common room. Now he just had to get past the fact that he wasn't with his own parents.

"Ginny, please. You're a friend not a stranger. Well, his friend, but his cousins say they know you," she explained with a smile. "I'm going to check on the other two."

Oliver smiled and nodded pleasantly, watching the door she'd gone through until he could hear footsteps climb the stairs, and then turned to James with an odd look on his face. "I don't remember speaking to... most of your family."

"They know of you," James told him simply, his eyes still on the show they were watching. "You're the second American in an admittedly small number of students; they can't not know you. Plus, we were in the news."

Very true, he told himself. To James, he copied Ginny's eye roll and snagged the remote out of his hand to change the channel, purely because disagreeing with him and changing things he wanted or liked annoyed James just enough to get a reaction. Oliver found himself watching for the quivering of the boy's top lip to keep from laughing and the way he ran a hand through his hair to stop from reaching out; Oliver was enjoying the reactions immensely.

"Give it back," James murmured, coming too close to Oliver to take it. The remote was easy to retrieve; Oliver sat so still, his body lax, that it slipped from his hand.

The clearing of a throat had them both jumping back.

Harry Potter, watching with raised eyebrows and a small grin, leant against the door frame. He looked worn out, his black hair messier than usual and his glasses gone to no longer hide the circles that darkened his otherwise light skin. Stood in front of them, his body looking as though it needed the support, he looked every bit his forty-two years.

Until he smiled.

"Not on my couch, boys," he warned, trying to seem stern. "I sleep on that."

"He's a thief, he stole my remote," James tattled, earning himself a kick in the shin.

"Do you always cry to your daddy?"

Simultaneously, Harry said yes and James said no.

"I do not! Albus goes to you more than I do."

"Albus doesn't like anyone else," his dad pointed out. "Where's your mother?"

"She went upstairs to check on Thing Two and Thing Three," Oliver replied, gesturing to the stairs. "I got Thing One covered."

"Not on my couch, you don't," he said, leaving the living room for the kitchen.

The moment he left, Oliver kicked James again, lighter this time and more to get his attention than to punish him for telling. "You have an... interesting family."

"You have no idea."

***

The bed they'd made for him wasn't as bad as Oliver had imagined, having not seen it until they'd gone to bed. It must have been transfigured from something else, because the confusion on James' face made it clear he'd never seen it before. It looked like a proper single bed, with a mattress and everything, and was put horizontally across James' room at the end of his own bed. He had to cross over the new bed to get to the wardrobe and drawers and there wasn't much walking space except for the patch of floor near the door, but it was only for a couple of weeks, so neither complained.

Pulling his pajamas out of his bag, Oliver dressed so fast that James was barely in and out of the bathroom, and found him lying across his bed, one arm tucked under his head.

"Won't you get cold on top of the covers?" James asked, climbing into his own bed and settling down. Oliver did the same. "Goodnight, Ollie-Pop."

"Stop it. Goodnight."

Despite being in a different house and in a new bed, Oliver slept soundly each night, waking up whenever he pleased because no one woke him up - usually between eleven and twelve and always before James. Each day was similar, with little to do and nowhere to go because friends were away and people were Christmas shopping; he'd get up and have brunch, watch TV until James woke up, talk to Harry or Lily (Ginny would be writing articles and Albus would be in his room or at Alexa's), sometimes they'd do Christmas shopping and sometimes they'd stay in but it'd be like family time - the TV would be off and they'd talk or play games (Harry was a sore loser who sucked at most board games and Poker, but always won at the mystery ones). It was nice, enough like his own family that Oliver no longer felt uncomfortable. For people who didn't often allow new people into their home and didn't have a lot of trust - according to James - they didn't show it.

When Christmas Eve rolled around, he started to notice a change in their behavior. It wasn't bad or scary, just different to how he had become used to. Instead of quick smiles and positive attitudes, there was a slight waver and the day seemed bleak. Harry lay on the couch and pouted until Ginny made him - and everyone else - get upstairs and get dressed a couple of hours after lunch.

Stood by the fireplace, waiting, in the smartest clothes he owned that didn't feel smart, Oliver leaned in and asked, "What the hell is going on and why do I have to be part of it?"

Before James had a chance to answer, Ginny came back, pushing Harry in front of her, and glared at them all. "Why do you do this every year when you know that the faster we get this over with, the faster we can leave?"

"If we don't go, we don't have to leave," Albus suggested.

James used Ginny scolding Albus for the suggestion to finally let him know what was going on. "Christmas Eve is the one time a year we have to go see Dudley and his family. Just for a couple of hours, but... let's just say we don't like it."

"Really? I never would have guessed. Why do I have to go?"

"Because we didn't say yes to you spending Christmas with us just to leave you alone during it," Ginny sighed, exasperated. He suspected it was more because of the annual battle to get everyone ready for this night than his question. "Will you two set an example and go through the floo please? Harry will follow."

Nodding, James knelt down to grab a handful of powder from the bowl they kept in the corner by the fire and stepped inside the space. It was a tight fit for just one person, and he wished their fireplace could be as big as his grandparents; he had just enough time to tug at Oliver's shirt sleeve to get him in before he called out the address and let the powder fall from his open hand.

They fell through, tumbling out of Dudley Dursley's fireplace, who jumped out of his seat and dropped his newspaper. He was slimmer than when he was a child, James only knowing that because of childhood pictures he'd seen around the house; his wife had insisted on healthy meals and diets. But he still indulged more than the woman allowed; the t-shirt he was wearing, a size too tight, was proof of that.

Oliver waved awkwardly, his hand shooting up and back down so fast he might as well have not done a thing.

"I'll go let the others know you're here," the older man stammered out, leaving the room in a hurry.

"You know how the floo is necessary for Hogwarts and St. Mungo's to send emergency letters?" Hearing the floo connect again, Oliver pulled James out of the way and just nodded. "Dad connected the floo for Bernie and Dudley still gets a little freaked out by magic. Using the floo is one such freak out."

"Oh," Oliver understood what had just happened. "I thought he was like the rest of you and just didn't want to see you."

"He's actually a lot better at this than I am. Then again, he wasn't the one locked in a cupboard," Harry added from behind them, ready to catch Lily before she fell on her face.

Ginny, coming into the house just in time to hear that, dropped the bag she now had and gave her husband a venomous glare - for what, Oliver chose not to guess. "You must be special, Oliver. Harry doesn't normally tell that story to guests."

"Must be special? That's like saying the sky must be blue."

The room broke into fits of laughter, starting with Bernie, who had just gotten to the door, and Harry, and was soon followed by Albus, Lily and the older woman standing by the youngest - his mother, Oliver assumed. Even Ginny cracked a smile.

James came close so only he could hear. "Do you remember what we say about you being rude and cocky?"

"You know when it happens," he whispered back.

"You're lucky I told them what you're like, this might have gone differently," James replied with a wink.

The introductions were short, as Oliver was the only new visitor to everyone else, and to keep the peace magic was barely mentioned. He didn't mind; his own parents weren't jumpy when they saw it or uncomfortable talking about it, but he'd grown up without knowledge of magic for eleven years and there were many other things to do and talk about, so it felt natural to him. Which, he noticed, Harry's cousin was grateful for.

"So what's it like moving from a hot state to a cold country?" Bernie's older sister Mariah asked.

"It was like living in a freezer, but I like to think I've grown accustomed to your unpredictable weather," Oliver told her with a shrug. "But when I get back to Jacksonville, I still think it's good to be home."

"I wish I lived somewhere warm," Mariah sighed.

Dudley rolled his eyes. "Mariah, you wish for a lot of things," her mother Shannon retorted. "So how long have you and James being friends? He's never mentioned an Oliver before. But don't take it personally, he doesn't mention a lot of people and the only friend we've actually met is Tucker."

"Officially, almost four months as proper friends, but technically it's been since our third year of school," James said, turning to Oliver for confirmation. He only nodded, not wanting to disagree in front of company. He didn't want to disagree. "The first time we met, he was yelling at me."

"Well, you were an idiot."

Albus didn't look up from his book as he said, "He's still an idiot."

"An idiot with high grades, a very good chance of graduating with Outstandings and the knowledge that I will get into a good university," James could have boasted, except his tone and body were calm and casual, as though none of what he'd said was a big deal. "I think I'm happy to be an idiot."

Conversation took another turn, with Lily and Bernie explaining their own plans for success, until the doorbell rang and Mariah cursed, Shannon explaining that her parents in law were here. Taking that as their cue to leave, Ginny and Shannon swapped presents while Harry and Dudley shared their annual awkward handshake.

Moving away from the group, Oliver let the family say their goodbyes and allowed himself to be pulled away when it was time to go. Going in the same order as before, he and James called for the Potters' address just in time to hear an old man boom and Harry Potter swear.

***

"Enjoying yourself?"

Looking up from his half eaten dessert, Oliver gave a weak smile and a short nod. He continued to play with the pieces of cake he'd cut up, twirling his fork around and letting the custard drip, listening to Harry slide into the seat beside his rather than watching.

"Yeah, your family's a riot," he eventually said.

Harry chuckled shortly, unable to disagree. "That's one word for it and you haven't met them all yet. I know this isn't your ideal Christmas, but we do want you to enjoy yourself here. You don't have to sit alone at the dining table."

"I'm not sulking or anything and I am very grateful to you for letting me stay, I'm glad I came," Oliver promised, dropping his fork and looking up so the older man could see how sincere he was. "I've just never had a Christmas without my parents before and it's a little weird, that's all."

"You wish you could talk to them," Harry stated. Oliver nodded, pushing his bowl away and officially giving up on his dessert. Smiling, Harry leant down and rooted in what looked like a bag when Oliver peeked around the table to see. He pulled out a laptop and opened it up; the computer buzzed as he set it up. Finally, he turned back to Oliver. "Shannon got me this one Christmas, but since my job is about catching magical criminals and it's pretty hands on, I neither have much use for it nor do I have time to spend on it; maybe you will."

Harry lifted the laptop up and turned it around, putting the screen in front of Oliver. There on the screen was the login to use the webcam. He only ever used that to do one thing.

"Thank you," he murmured.

"Take your time."

Patting his shoulder, Harry left him in the kitchen. Alone, Oliver typed in his own login details and waited impatiently for the screen to load and to see if his dad was logged in. When he saw that the man was, he clicked on the name and crossed his fingers in hope that his father hadn't just left himself logged in and gone away.

"Hey, kiddo. How'd you get on here. I thought you were at school?" Fraser Ford's voice could be heard before he came into view. Despite the confusion, his dad was grinning. He pulled at his t-shirt, reminding Oliver that it was still early afternoon back home and his family were probably out, which meant his dad was either watching sport or a movie, enjoying the solitude. "Did you take your laptop this year? Did you get it to work?"

"No. My laptop is still at home. A friend of mine invited me to stay for Christmas and this is his dad's."

"His? So you're not at Sarah's? Are you at Ryan's?"

"No, James Potter's," Oliver replied, cringing when his dad's eyes widened and his grin became a smirk. He suddenly regretted confiding in his parents about secret before they'd moved, even though he'd had to, and hated that his dad eavesdropped in him and Sarah.

"Interesting. This is the James with the great ass and dreamy eyes, right?"

"I never said that; Sarah said that when she was mocking me, just like you are now. Stop with the mocking," he whispered harshly. "And shut up in general; I'm only in the kitchen and his sister alone is a notorious snoop who likes to gossip and spread rumors. She could be listening."

Fraser held up his hands in surrender. "Sorry. Are you okay there?" he asked seriously.

Nodding, Oliver told him about his Christmas break so far, about the shopping and the games and meeting some of the family. In return, his dad let him know what was going on in Jacksonville. For almost an hour they talked, his mother and other family members joining in once they got home, until the battery on Harry's laptop started to run out and it was time to go.

"Your Christmas presents are in my wardrobe, top shelf," his mum said. "Merry Christmas, sweetheart."

The laptop switched off.

Oliver closed the laptop lid and left the kitchen, joining the Potter family with a smile on his face.



A/N: I wasn't going to post this, but I go on holiday tomorrow morning for two weeks. So while I'll still be writing, I may not be able to post anything. So this is for you now. :)

Thing One/Two/Three is a reference to The Cat in the Hat and belongs to Dr. Seuss.

I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please let me know what you think.

Sam.

Chapter 14: Care to Make a Wager
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Oliver woke up feeling warmer than he had been the last few days; the winter weather had steadily gotten worse and with warming charms not practical in a Muggle environment with Muggle things and the heating turning itself off during the night, he often woke up cocooned in his blankets, with his feet tangled at the end and his head ending up under his pillow more than once. The first thing his bleary eyes and brain noticed was that he wasn't wrapped up in his blanket, the second thing being that his front was pressed against something hard and as warm as the rest of him. Which was weird because only the side of the headboard touched James' bed - if Lily had done something to embarrass him again, then guest be damned, he'd come after her.

Still half asleep, it didn't register in Oliver's brain that it might not be a trick but another human being until he leaned forward and breathed in a mouthful of hair that tickled his nose and had him turning his head upwards. But it was the sound of someone coughing that had him snapping his eyes open; towering over him thanks to his position on the bed, Ginny looked torn between embarrassment and amusement, watching him and then whatever was in front of him.

Oliver found the souce of the heat... and jumped up, swearing.

He really wasn't in his own bed, he realized, he was in James' bed. James, who was still fast asleep on his back with his head turned to his mother. His breathing was shallow and his eyes fluttered, like he could be waking up, but other than that there was no indication that he even knew a second person was in his bed, never mind a third being in his room.

"Er..." was all Oliver managed to say.

Ginny shook her head, clearly not wanting any details. "Could you nudge him?" she asked instead. "Christmas Day is the only time I wake them now, to get ready and leave for their grandparents' house. Used to be their birthdays, too, for the presents, but sadly they're all during school time now."

Knowing that she was only rambling to ignore what she was seeing - his own mother would have freaked out if she'd caught someone in his bed, no matter who they were - Oliver just nodded and shook the sleeping boy until he groaned and rubbed his eyes, waving Oliver away and muttering that he got the idea.

It was a few seconds before he understood what was going on, but instead of being as stunned as the others were, James only chuckled. "Mum, we were only talking."

"I know, your dad could hear you."

Well, that explains why she isn't freaking out.

"Is the bathroom free for me to shower?" Oliver asked, dying to get out of the room and the uncomfortable situation he'd once again ended up in.

Ginny nodded. "There's a fresh towel on the rack."

"Thanks," he muttered, climbing over James and running across the hall. In the bathroom and under the hot water, Oliver buried his head in his hands and shut out the rest of the world, dreading whatever conversation mother and son were probably having.

***

In the bedroom, James spun around, swinging his legs onto the floor, and finished getting sleep out of his eyes. He waited patiently for his mother to say whatever it was that she wanted to say, unconcerned as to where the conversation would lead; maybe he would if anything between him and Oliver had happened, but it was just sleep and he really didn't see what the big deal was. For everyone else anyway; with his heart in his throat and his stomach doing somersaults, he considered last night the moment their relationship took another step away from friendship and closer to... wherever the hell it wanted to go.

At least for James. Oliver didn't seem to like the route they were taking. And didn't that just suck.

"So," Ginny started, clicking her tongue in her mouth. "If I'd thought you'd share the bed, I wouldn't have created a new one."

Really sharing a bed... no, too weird to think about now. "You act like you've stumbled in on this big secret thing we do every night. We don't. We sat and talked," he explained with a roll of his eyes and a shrug of his shoulders. "It wasn't too late, so we weren't planning on sleeping. We sat and talked about Christmas and what it'll be like at the Burrow, then we talked about having snow, then something about tutoring. We must have fallen asleep during it."

"Really?" Ginny asked, seeming to be skeptical. When James nodded again and she looked convinced, she let out what James could only describe as part relieved sigh and part laugh, adding, "Don't tell your uncle Charlie or Theo that, they'll be so disappointed in you."

"Why would I tell them?" James pointed out in annoyance. "My love life is not, nor will it ever be, up for discussion. Even if it was, I don't have a love life to discuss."

"Yeah... Lily caught you first," Ginny muttered before darting out of the room.

James chucked his pillow at the door, very much wishing that what he'd thrown had been heavier than a pillow and the door had been his sister; she was going to tell them all sorts of lies, he just knew it. And he couldn't stop it.

Oliver was going to kill him.

***

Oliver spent exactly ten minutes and sixteen seconds in the bathroom, while spending eight minutes and twenty-seven seconds in the shower. James, not yet ready to leave his room and face his sister, timed it. Even worse, he sat and wondered if Oliver spent longer in there to avoid his family as well, if he was trying to think of something to say, planning conversations in his head for what he'd say... and what Oliver did in the shower to occupy himself.

That last thought had James focusing more on the time; he couldn't think those things with his family downstairs and the guy himself across the hall.

It put a few things into perspective, though.

By the time the bathroom door opened, James' mind had turned into how he'd broach the subject to other people, and if he even should, so he didn't notice footsteps coming his way, not even when the floorboard creaked, nor did he notice the door of his bedroom being push open, until he heard the shriek.

"Jesus, James," Oliver snapped, wrapping his towel more securely around his waist and half his stomach before James could see anything other than a bare, wet chest - his tan had faded again; that was all James really got to see. He kept his arms pressed against himself, wrist down, and his gaze on the wall rather than James. "I thought you were downstairs."

"I wasn't, but I'm going right now," he muttered, scrambling to his feet and leaving the room. James pulled the door with him, not shutting it only so he didn't trap his fingers.

He wondered briefly if Oliver had had the same reaction a few weeks ago, after he'd showered and caught Oliver in front of his bed; given how quickly the guy had averted his eyes and run away, part of James hoped so. The other part, his more pessimistic side, told him that he'd just made Oliver uncomfortable that night. Like every other time pessimism came out to play, he ignored it.

Still, a racing heart in the hallway of his family home he could handle, but when the blood traveled south it became an entirely different matter.

He chanced a look to his right... and part of him regretted it instantly.

In the bedroom, Oliver was using his towel to dry his hair, neck and chest, which meant that his back was bare, as was the rest of him. He was completely unaware that he was bring glanced at - I am not watching - and being alone, it was the most comfortable he'd ever seen Oliver in all the years they'd shared a room. Out of the two, he was the only one who felt comfortable. Then he turned around and James' eyes snapped upwards, his head facing forward, and he legged it to the bathroom.

Once there, safe behind the locked door, James leant against the sink and stared at his reflection in the mirror. He took note of his flushed cheeks and maddening heartbeat and his problem, and he couldn't for the life of him remember the last time he'd felt this way. Maybe he'd take a shower, he had plenty of time.

"Definitely not straight," he confirmed to himself, a whisper being all he was ready to hear right now.

But in his mind, louder than any other thought he had, he wasn't thinking of his sexuality or of what he'd seen or even how he'd felt.

He was wondering how Oliver got all those scars. And he was praying it wasn't bad.

***

Ten minutes after James finally came down the stairs, Oliver joined him. He found the Potters around the dining table in the kitchen, different breakfast foods in the center - toast, jams, eggs, bacon and sausage on plates, while two boxes of cereal stood on either end. Sitting beside Harry, because he was only one of two not smirking, and opposite James, who ducked his head the moment he saw Oliver come in, he grabbed a plate, put two slices of toast on top and covered them with scrambled egg, a thin coating of ketchup going over that.

Figuring out that everyone knew about last night's impromptu sleeping arrangements, and having a good idea as to who told once he heard Lily giggle, Oliver wisely kept his mouth shut. Conversation tried to start more than once, but Ginny and Harry always warned Lily to be quiet the moment she opened her mouth. Just in case.

It was Albus who finally broke it; that it was the youngest brother speaking confused him way more than the topic he chose to start with.

What's got James so silent?

"A baseball fan, eh? Lexi will love that," he said, gesturing to the Oliver's front. He smoothed down his Tampa Bay jersey. "Are they a Florida team?"

"Yeah. Alexa Nott is a baseball fan?" he wondered out loud. He hadn't known that she was for real, only that she'd worn a shirt from time to time.

"She's a Yankees fan. Her family went on holiday to New York when she was six, there was a game on that first night and she was hooked," Albus explained with a shrug. "Most sports she watches because of the players, like Quidditch and football, but she watches baseball for the game. She's been trying to explain it to me since we were kids, but I don't care about sport here, so sport somewhere else had no chance."

They shared a laugh, the others joining in once the discomfort faded and they were able to give their own opinions on the different sports they watched and enjoyed or didn't know about, even James - he was all for Quidditch, until the day he died, but he'd participate in others for fun.

"Maybe next time you can teach us the rules of baseball, Oliver," Lily suggested, one of the rare times he'd ever heard her being sincere. "But not now, because after breakfast we're going to Nana and Granddad's and it gets really hectic, so we probably won't be able to or even have time."

"Maybe one day," he agreed, turning away to finish eating his breakfast.

From the corner of his eye, he caught James watching him. Discreetly, Oliver checked himself over; nothing was out of place, there were no embarrassing food stains on his face or jersey and his scars were glamored once more. He looked up, locked eyes with the boy across from him and saw the apology he didn't want to say out loud. So that was it; he just wanted to show that he was sorry for them being the subject of Lily's rumors again. Breathing a sigh of relief, Oliver nodded once - an acceptance, both of his apology and of the situation they found themselves in. Lily's words no longer bothered him, at least not as much as they used to.

It was his own thoughts that bothered him; with every moment he spent with James Potter, it was getting increasingly harder to hide things from him, particularly his feelings, the looks he occasionally gave the guy. Maybe if James knew about him, he could easily lie about everything else.

So... should I tell him?

An answer still wouldn't come. James watching him out of the corner of his eye didn't help matters either; it was like he knew something but didn't know what to look for. By the end of breakfast, he seemed resigned to the fact that he couldn't find it and stopped, chatted normally again. Or as normal as James could be.

Lily was right; almost immediately after breakfast, people finished getting ready and met in front of the fireplace to floo to Ginny's parents' home. Given that it was only half past nine in the morning, Oliver had a hard time believing Albus when he said they were usually the last of the family to get there.

"You'll see," he whispered conspiratorially before going back to whatever device he held in his hands - an iPod from the looks of it, but Oliver couldn't tell from across the living room.

Harry came in next, nudging Lily toward the fireplace and away from the presents her mother had in a large bag, extended by magic - Oliver's included; Harry had gone to get them last night after he'd spoken to his parents. Patting his pocket discreetly, Oliver watched Harry stop right in front of him.

"A couple of things," he started, hands joined together and his forefingers points outward. "This is about to become the craziest Christmas you have ever seen. Don't outright avoid people, they'll know and they'll come for you. Hugo will be fine for the most part; he ignores everyone anyway, but you're new so he might come talk to you. Agree with the things he says, otherwise you'll piss him off and he'll destroy you. He's usually right anyway. Nicky is the second nosiest person in this family, Lily being the first."

"Hey!"

Harry only rolled his eyes at her before continuing. "But he's nice about it, so he's okay."

"As long as he's taken his medication," Albus added, not looking up.

"True," Harry conceded. "Nicky... has issues. Let's leave it at that. But he's working on a magazine, so you can talk to him about that. The L twins -"

"Louis and Lucy," James whispered in Oliver's ear.

"- Have to be interested in the conversation first, especially Louis, but they won't cause you any trouble. A full moon has recently passed, so he may actually be asleep."

Knowing what that meant, remembering Louis missing classes during full moons and being told that he was part werewolf, Oliver only nodded his head and let the man finish.

"You know Roxanne. Her brother Freddie is actually the calm one, despite his namesake and father, but he won't get involved when things get crazy. He'll be with Amy. Who am I missing?" He started to name his nieces and nephews. "Victoire tends to stay close to Nicky, to make sure he's alright, so she won't really notice you unless Nick does. Molly is cool, she'll keep people in line, and she loves photography; talk to Molly."

"That's more than a couple of things and it sounds calmer than you're making it feel," he said when Harry finally looked like he was done. "Except for Hugo."

"It does, doesn't it?" Harry said with a short laugh one might describe as nervous. "But that was me being quick... and nice. Plus, I haven't gotten to the parents, especially Ginny's parents."

"You also forgot Teddy," Lily piped up. "You're own godson. You're oldest." She tutted. "Wait till I tell my brother that our father left him out."

"I don't need to warn him about Teddy. He's met Teddy. And Teddy's the good one."

"Never used to be."

"Hush, Albus," his father scolded him. "Oh, the New Year's Eve party."

"Shouldn't I be warned about a New Year's Eve party on, I don't know, New Year's Eve?" he asked.

Another nervous laugh. "Yeah, you'd think. You need time to prepare for it. Everyone's invited to this one, family and friends, because it's usually when we can all say for certain that we'll be there to see everyone else. So for the most part it's okay, as long as you don't get in the way of people who don't like each other, family feuds, stuff like that. And stay as far away from Theodore Nott as you can. He just... knows things. He shouldn't be allowed to talk to people."

"Then why do you invite him?"

Harry gave Oliver an incredulous look, as though he couldn't believe that someone could ask him such a question. "He's my best friend."

"Harry, what are you telling him?" Ginny called from the hall, handing him the bag of Christmas presents so she could take the stacks of Christmas cookies she'd made with Lily. Or rather she'd watched in awe as her daughter baked cookie after cookie until all the chocolate was gone, all the dough used up. They all had.

Just looking at a cookie made Oliver feel a little queasy.

Ignoring Lily's protests, apparently the argument that she made them just for her and her parents needed to stop taking them to the Burrow was one they had every year, Harry answered his wife's question with a smile so wide and sweet that it was almost as sickening as the cookie. It was also false.

"I'm just informing him of the things our wonderful family might do."

Even Lily paused her protesting to snigger.

"You warned him."

"I prefer inform," he said.

"Did you warn him of your friend?"

He nodded quickly, knowing that it would keep him out of trouble. But he added, "I still prefer inform."

Whatever Ginny had been about to say, it was quickly interrupted by James, who loudly stated that if they didn't leave now his grandmother would surely kick their asses for being late. Oliver wasn't sure how true that was, but it got people moving. They left for the Burrow in the same way they left for the Dursley's home; James going first and pulling Oliver in, siblings in next and followed by the parents.

Albus was also right; the moment he stepped out of the fireplace he saw chaos. People he both recognized from Hogwarts and didn't know at all were rushing around the small, unstable-looking house; the older ones were yelling to be heard while children were yelling just for the hell of it; a boy who was definitely younger than ten was chasing a toddler.

And another moment later it all stopped. Silence filled every crevice once the last Potter had stepped through. Even the baby was quiet, his small fist in his mouth... until he noticed Harry.

"Ganddad!" he squealed, running in Harry's direction with his arms up in a silent demand to be picked up. The man did so happily.

It broke the tension, which had been awkward on Oliver's side though he couldn't say for sure about the others. But now that they'd seen the new guy in the house - and since they'd known he was coming - chaos resumed. Leading the way, James tugged at Oliver's arm and led him around the house, finding a safer and quieter spot by the back door, where he could point out the people Oliver asked about without too much hassle.

"The baby is Ted and Vic's son, Orion. Everyone calls him Ryan; the constellation name was just Ted's way of following the Black tradition. He refers to my dad as 'granddad' for the reasons I mentioned in school that day we agreed to tutor each other," he started, gesturing to the child who'd gone for Harry. "The twin boys are Lorcan and Lysander Scamander. Their grandfather lives across the hill and their mother has been a family friend since Hogwarts; if they're here already then they've already opened their presents across the hill. The pregnant woman is Freddie's long term girlfriend, Amelie, or Amy. There are engagement rumors, but he won't confirm or deny it."

He went through his various aunts and uncles and their current statuses in life, who their kids were, who to stay clear from (George was a must in case he had any of his products with him and Bill was the safest if he didn't want any hassle, but being around Charlie depended on how much he'd had to drink, but that wasn't until later so he was okay for now). Oliver found out more about James' family in those twenty minutes than he thought he ever would by talking to him in school every day for the year.

It would have continued, there were so many questions Oliver could have asked that he knew would be answered, except Molly Weasley chose that moment to call everyone into the living room to open presents.

She was without a doubt the most organized woman he had ever met. The way she got the entire family to listen to her both fascinated and scared him a little, though he tried not to let it show. James' nudge and a couple of giggles around him told him he wasn't doing a very good job. Molly Senior, as he'd noticed people call her behind her back, no doubt because of her granddaughter, put the small children - the twins and Ryan - in the middle of the living room. The children of her children - and Oliver - sat around them. And her kids got to sit on the couch and chairs or stand around them - it was first come first serve. The only one missing was Louis; he was sleeping upstairs and could open his later because 'the poor dear needed his rest'.

There was no order for giving out the presents and you didn't have to wait; your name was called out and it was handed to you, then you could open at your leisure. Most opened their presents as they came; only Teddy, Victoire and Harry waited, deciding to show their excitement for the children's presents first. Since two of them were parents to the baby and one was both grandfather - even it was more of an honorary title - and godfather to at least one of the twins, it made sense to Oliver. His parents had always waited until he'd finished until he'd turned ten. He bet that if he was home, in Jacksonville, his grandmother would still wait even though he was two and a bit months shy of eighteen.

He hadn't checked his presents after Harry had retrieved them, liking the element of surprise he was used to, so when he came across a medium sized box, one wrapped in paper different to the others and done in a hurry, Oliver hastily looked for the tag. His mother never deviated from her Christmas shopping routine - buy the present, wrap the gift, keep it neat. She liked presentation. Everything was done in advance.

His mother hadn't wrapped this.

He found the tag, stuck in the corner and pressed down so not to come off.

To Oliver
Merry Christmas.
From James.


It was one of those pre-written tags, so all you had to do was write down the names, rather than a card for a more personal message. But that didn't matter; he didn't even care that it said 'from' and not 'love' - James Potter had bought him a present. He'd never bought Oliver a present.

Gingerly, mostly so he didn't let his excitement show, Oliver pulled off the wrapping paper and found a plain cardboard box. Intrigued, he opened it.

Inside was a camera. It looked like a brick and was as long and thick as one, too. It had a lens in the middle that had to be lengthened manually and had a thick strap to go around your neck. It was old, but in mint condition. Beside it were six rolls of film.

It wasn't just any camera, but an eighteenth century Barrett camera. He'd been a prominent wizarding photographer back then; he'd created his own cameras and never had any family to pass them on to. Rumor was they went to an old friend, but no one ever found out. They didn't even know how many were in existence, but one thing Oliver was sure of was the price it would cost to own one if one was found.

"I thought you'd like it," James said with a hesitant smile, obviously not understanding the stunned silence.

The rest of the circle avoided looking their way, except for the twins who had to be told, but it was clear they were all trying to listen in.

"How -" He cleared his throat and tried again. "Do you know how many Galleons this costs?"

"Well, no, because I didn't pay for it," James admitted with a shrug. "I asked my cousin Molly about old cameras and she said to go to Alexa. I didn't know why, but I did as I was told and she told me about this camera her dad had mentioned that was sitting unused in one of the rooms. So I sent him a letter, asking about it. He found it and sent it over the other day."

"He just handed you an expensive camera, a fifty thousand galleon camera. And that's if it doesn't work," Oliver retorted skeptically.

"Well, you have to remember that the Nott's are, like, billionaires, so fifty grand is nothing to Theo," Harry pointed out, not reacting to the price either. But since he said the Nott heir was his best friend, why he didn't react made more sense when he added, "He spends at least twice that during fashion week."

"He had no use for it, it was just gathering dust," James told him, getting back on subject. "He said 'better a photographer have it than a guy willing to let it sit in a box'. So, yeah, he handed it over. Don't you like it? I know you prefer Muggle cameras, but -"

"I love it. Thank you," Oliver interrupted, seriously considering hugging the guy and more. Though, he decided, he might at least wait till Lily wasn't watching.

The rest of the present opening went by quietly, Oliver spending it playing with his camera and James spending it watching him.

Oliver tapped his pocket once.

Soon.

Then they were told to prepare for dinner. It would still be a while, but with so many people they could prepare now and still be lucky if they were ready in time.

***

It was after Christmas dinner when everything finally settled down; one of the twins - Lysander, Oliver was sure now - was passed out on the floor while his brother lay in his back beside him and played with his new toy dragon, letting it fly above his head; baby Ryan - it stopped him from thinking of his friend - slept upstairs, his mother with him; and the rest of the family were dotted around the house, doing their own thing. Oliver had conceded to Albus that things got crazy, but only in the beginning. He didn't quite understand why Harry had warned him.

Unless the others had been warned to behave.

He spotted Harry talking with Ginny and two people who'd introduced themselves as the twins' parents. Even he looked calm and happy, as though this morning had never happened.

"They've either being told to behave or they're not sure of you," James murmured, practically reading his mind. "I'd go with the first option; some know you and some know of you, so it'd be enough for the others, which means they'd be sure of you. They'd act as though you were just another member of the family and be themselves, so things would be crazier than it has been. So they've been warned."

"Someone can do that?" Oliver was skeptical; despite his doubts, he'd heard stories of just how loud and weird this family could be.

"Uncle Bill and Nana Molly can be very creative when it comes to ways of getting people to behave," he replied mysteriously. Then he changed the subject. "Did you really like your present? I wasn't sure, it was kind of a split second decision. I was going to get you a new photo album, but then Theo sent the letter to say he'd look for it."

"I meant it," Oliver said sincerely, stopping James from rambling. "If I'm being honest, I may never use it. I'm scared of damaging it. But I love it. It makes mine seem silly in comparison, though. Funnily enough, we had similar ideas."

He slipped his hand into his pocket and pulled out a wrapped gift, the size of his palm. Carefully, he put the tip of his wand against the top and said the spell that would return the gift to its original size. He checked the wrapping hadn't torn before handing it over.

Surprised, happily so, James took it and removed the wrapping. Oliver had been right about similar ideas; a photo frame fell into his hands, the back facing upward, and flicked the stand up before turning it over. The picture inside was of the group, or the closer of the friends anyway (even if they hadn't been at the time). Emily and Ryan sat at one end of the low wall, their fourteen year old selves so much different to now, but also the same; there were more spots for the Slytherin while their Ravenclaw friend was wearing braces. Tucker and James sat in the middle, their arms around each other's shoulders and grinning from ear to ear; even in the picture they looked as close as brothers. Sarah sat beside James, her smile only for the picture; Tucker had been stretching his arm to flick her pigtail. Oliver was on the other end, leaning back to rest his hands on the wall.

It was third year, the middle of March and one of the rare moments Oliver had handed his camera to someone else. Because it was the first time in over two years that he'd felt genuinely happy. He treasured that picture because of that, so when he made a copy to give to James as a present, thinking he'd like it, he'd pretended not to understand why he'd given James the original instead.

He was still pretending.

"Thank you," James said softly. Judging from the look on his face, in his eyes, it was a day they both remembered well. "This was the day you officially joined our group and became friends with Ryan."

"You noticed," Oliver joked.

"More than you think."

***

From their places by the kitchen, Harry and Ginny were able to see their son and his friend quite clearly, every action shared between them and even the look on James' face - that wanting look that could be mistaken for adoring that teenagers experienced at least once in their lives.

"I told you," Harry said with a grin, his hand out and his fingers curled three times. "Pay up."

Sighing, Ginny dug into her pocket and pulled out a key; the very key she used to lock away the magically cold fridge in the Burrow to keep her husband away from treacle tart and Jack Daniels.

"I can't believe you bet on your son's personal life for alcohol and desserts."

He scoffed. "Yes you can. What you can't believe is that you lost. What I can't believe is that you thought you'd win."

Only conceding silently, Ginny instead asked, "How did you know?"

"I know everything," he said first, smugly. "I recognize that look on his face. Saw it on you once," he added. "Then you got to know me."

Ginny nudged him in the side, the smile she couldn't quite hide being the only way of knowing she found his joke kind of funny.

"I like this one," Harry continued to speak. "Oliver's not as crazy as the girl he was seeing."

"You don't know that Oliver likes James, or even how James genuinely feels. They may never date," Ginny stated.

Harry gave her a look. "Care to make a wager on that?"

She didn't hesitate. "Hell no."



A/N: Hey guys! A new chapter! A new chapter with exciting things happening! More to come! :D

KAYLA - An awkward post shower naked glimpse. For you. :P

The Tampa Bay Rays and the New York Yankees are Major League Baseball teams, as you probably know. It had to be done. After talking with a friend, I came to the conclusion that because Ted thinks of Harry as a father and Orion is only two, it's not weird to refer to him as granddad, even if it is honorary and he's actually - by blood - more of an uncle. Plus it's adorable. :P

"Since marrying into the family and given everything we've been through, Ron and Hermione have become more like siblings to me than best friends. There was a vacancy. Technically two, but Theo here is more than enough for a best friend. I don't need another." - Why Harry calls Theo his best friend. :)

I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please let me know what you think. :)

Sam.

P.S. Don't talk to Theo. He's already corrupted poor Harry. ;)

Chapter 15: Letting Things Out
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Boxing Day was a much quieter affair, even with the extra person in the form of Bernie Dursley; he'd flooed into the Potter home himself at eight o'clock in the morning. Since Oliver had been told that only family could come straight through, he understood how the kid had gotten in as he heard James cry out in pain.

Bernie jumped on top of him. Oliver rolled over in his own bed and went back to sleep.

It was over an hour later when he woke up properly and decide to get up, and for the first time during the holiday he woke up to an empty room. There was no James with his arm and head hanging off the edge of his bed or completely hidden underneath his duvet. It was a little odd; James was rarely ever up before someone else unless he had early Quidditch practice.

Bernie must have won.

His surprise waned slightly when he came into the living room and spotted James fast asleep on the couch in the living room on his way past; he seemed oblivious to the rest of the world, the remote tucked under his arms like a child would with a teddy bear. He continued into the kitchen, was happily ignored by Lily and Bernie, who were plotting at the table. Pouring cereal into a bowl, it registered that the parents and second child were probably still in bed; Harry didn't go back to work until January 2nd, Ginny could work from home and Albus rarely left his room anyway.

The thought caused him to pause; he'd felt so comfortable here, coming down and making breakfast, that he hadn't realized Ginny wasn't treating him like a guest, already down to enquire as to what he wanted to eat like in the beginning of his stay. Was he no longer a guest in their eyes?

He quite liked the idea of being considered family, even if it wasn't in the way he'd dreamed.

Smiling, Oliver grabbed a clean spoon and went back into the living room, letting his grin widen and just eating a spoonful of cereal instead of answering Lily when she demanded to know why he was so happy. There'd been a change in the living room while he was preparing his breakfast; James still appeared to be asleep, only rather then his previous position stretched out on the couch, his legs were raised and balanced along the back of the couch. It created a large enough gap on the end of the couch for him to sit on, and since only he had come into the living room in the first place, the only logical assumption was that James hadn't been fast asleep and had noticed him.

Oliver would have moved to the chair if not for the fact that he'd claimed that end of the sofa (it was in direct line of the television). And James knew that he'd claimed it, they all did; Ginny had laughed, Lily had protested and Harry had - jokingly, Oliver thought - agreed to fight him for it when James had reminded him that it was his dad's couch.

His suspicions that James had noticed him and gave him the spot were confirmed the moment Oliver sat down; James let his legs fall to rest on top of him, his mouth twitching in amusement and the excuse 'I couldn't keep them up any longer' muttered.

"Is that my breakfast?" Oliver answered by taking another spoonful, using James' legs as a table. "But those are my chocolate quaffles."

They were, he knew. He'd been told not to touch them on his first morning here, though he did.

Since he put it that way... "One bite," he offered, holding out the bowl.

Twisting the top half of his body to make a space for the bowl on the couch, James stuck out his tongue and took three bites.

"Hey! I spat in that," Oliver lied, smirking when James finally handed it over. "Make your own breakfast."

He shrugged noncommittally, his eyes closing once more. Oliver had barely begun eating when he heard familiar snoring by his side.

For that, Oliver decided to snag the remote as well.

***

Shortly after lunch, when everyone had showered and dressed (except for Harry, who took his couch back), Oliver dragged James out of the house and into the fresh, albeit cold, air. The wind whipped against their clothes, their hair, any bare skin they had left uncovered. Wrapping their coats more securely around them, they walked along the streets, James demanding to know why they were out in the cold for the first ten minutes and begging to know why during the next fifteen.

It was only when they turned into a new row of houses and Oliver produced a key that James not only figured out where they were but just how close to his own house his friend actually lived. The house was about as impressive as James'; the second house in the row, it was a basic two story building, built with red brick and had a white door. The front garden was much neater than his own, nothing cluttered the lawn and everything was trimmed and green.

"Next door has been looking after the place while my parents are in America and I've been at school," Oliver answered his unspoken question while trying to get his hands to work in the cold so he could open the door. Finally, he managed it and stepped inside, ushering James in so he could shut the door and bring back warmth.

"Why are we here?" he had to ask. He pulled off his coat, thankful it was no longer snowing. James got the sense that Oliver's mother didn't need to be here to kill him if he'd made the house less than immaculate. He'd only heard of her and she reminded him too much of his aunt Fleur.

"Well, since I've now had the pleasure of finding out all of your family, I figured it was about time you found out about mine," Oliver replied with a smile. "Also, don't you just love the silence? I'm thinking we should stay here for the rest of the holiday."

Just imagining all the things that might happen with them alone, James gulped - hopefully unnoticeably - and shook his head. "My parents promised to look after you, they won't let you live alone. It doesn't matter how old you are. Besides, think about Lily finding out we're all alone here and try and say that again."

Oliver was silent was for a good few minutes, apparently giving it serious thought, then he repeated, "I'm thinking we should stay here for the rest of the holiday. The things we could do," he added with a wink that was almost flirtatious and turned his back to go into the kitchen.

James really regretted shaking his head.

Not wanting to go near the guy in his current state, James moved into the living room, his mind immediately deviated from Oliver's words and the insinuation that came with them to focus on the pictures arranged around the room. There were so many and he just knew that Oliver had taken most, if not all, of them. There were adults and children of all ages and heights, some laughing and some posing. One little girl was even sulking, her pout so strong he could see a lot of the inside of her lip.

By the television, on the wall, was a family portrait of a man and woman hugging a small boy, a boy with Oliver's eyes and hair, his round face and small nose. He must have been about six. In the picture below, on the side, the same boy, eight or nine this time, had his arm around an older boy with similar features. They were at the beach, judging by the large amount of sand, and had just been in the sea; droplets hung from their hair and skin.

"That's my cousin Andrew. He's a design student, lives in New York," Oliver said from behind, two cups of hot chocolate in his hands. He passed one over and then used his free hand to point to the sulking girl. "That's his little sister Autumn. Their dad is my mum's brother. My mum has three brothers and two sisters, she's the middle child. My dad has five sisters, he's the youngest."

"That's a lot of cousins, I bet."

Oliver laughed and nodded. "You didn't expect my family to be bigger than yours, did you?"

"No," James admitted, shaking his head. "People's families rarely are."

Taking a sip of his hot chocolate, Oliver gestured to all of the pictures. "We're spread out across America, mostly the east coast. We tried to meet up for Thanksgiving and Christmas, that's why I said my grandmother makes them really big, like parties. But because they come home in November and December, rather than summer like me, I haven't seen a lot of them in years. That'll change this summer, though."

"I bet you can't wait," James guessed, trying to mask his disappointment at the thought of Oliver leaving. His earlier words of going back home for good echoed inside his head and hiding it grew harder.

"Yeah. I'll be back, though," Oliver said, his tone conversational. If he'd noticed the look on James' face and understood what it meant, he never said. "Sarah and Ryan will probably try to move back with me, but I think my parents actually like their jobs and friends here, so they'll make me visit."

"If Sarah goes with you, then Tucker definitely will and I can't leave him alone in a new country," he implied with a grin one might consider sly. That one Oliver understood.

"And we can't leave Emily here alone, that would be rude." He sighed dramatically and rolled his eyes. "I guess I'm stuck with you all. You're lucky I like you."

"Funny, I thought it was the other way around."

He received a dead arm for that.

***

They spent hours in Oliver's home, raiding the DVD collection for films James had never gotten to see and eating the sweets that Oliver's father had tried to hide in the house before he'd left. In between watching, he answered any questions James had about his family, such as his dad's job as a high school English teacher and that his mum always kept a fully stocked first aid kit in the bathroom after one of his cousins had slipped by his grandparents' pool and blood had poured out. His cousin hadn't been bothered, but his mother almost had a panic attack.

After that, it became a game to see who could tell the most embarrassing family story; Louis' daycare temper tantrum only marginally beat Andrew accidentally being locked out in the rain because of the first signs of Oliver's magic.

"It's not like the rain had lasted," James had scoffed.

"Maybe," Oliver had conceded. "But he was eight years old, only wearing underpants I'd turned pink and the girl he was crushing on, who lived next door, laughed the whole time."

Louis' still won.

When the sun had set and stomachs began to rumble, looking for dinner was their next task. But no one had lived in the house for a few months, so the fridge and cupboards were bare except for a few cans of vegetables. Surprising Oliver, James offered to go out for dinner, promising him five star dining and the best night of his life, and he sounded so convincing that Oliver almost believed him.

Five star dining turned out to be a fast food place.

"Wow," Oliver snorted, elongating the word to prolong any discomfort James might have for his sarcasm.

"Hey!" the older boy protested, using what little height he had over Oliver to look down at him. "I'm an unemployed, struggling seventeen year old, with twenty quid to my name. This is living in splendor."

Gesturing to the restaurant, if you could call it one, and resting a hand on James' shoulder, Oliver kept his smile but hoped his tone was as sincere as it could be. "I'm not one for fancy restaurants. And I love chicken."

Believing him, James returned the smile and pulled open the door. "After you." He followed behind, until they stopped a few yards away from the counter; it was enough to be able to see the board, but people didn't need to ask if they were waiting in line. "So, eating in or taking out?"

Since the snow had stopped, it had gotten just a little warmer, but the thought of going out in the winter still caused Oliver to wince. However, he had decided in the last couple of days that he was finally ready to tell James one of his secrets, only he'd been putting it off. Tonight was the night; he didn't know anyone in the restaurant, but given how much he'd kept it to himself he wanted the moment he told to be as private as possible. Just the two of them. That was better done outside.

"Eating out," he finally said.

James winced as well, but said nothing. At the counter, he ordered two small chicken meals to go and they each carried a box in one hand and a drink in the other. It was incredibly awkward to eat, drink and walk almost simultaneously, but they made that a game, too. They soon forgot about the cold.

Finished and their rubbish in the nearest bin, James stuffed his hands in his pockets and turned to Oliver. "So why outside?"

Oliver shrugged. "Felt like walking."

"Okay," he eventually said and he knew James didn't believe him. "At least I haven't spilled my drink all over you this time."

The memory of that day found its way to the front of his mind and Oliver chuckled, it soon becoming full fledged and uncontrollable laughter when James joined in. "Oh, God. That feels like so long ago."

"It started everything," James pointed out when he could talk.

"It made everyone notice me. Yes, me," Oliver added when he noticed James' raised eyebrows. "You were already noticed. You're one of the most popular kids in school, always have been."

"Not by choice at first," he admitted. "I made it my choice; I caused a little bit of trouble, I joined the Quidditch team, I talked to everyone. Made myself James Potter, rather than Harry Potter's son."

"Well, I'd rather not have the choice, I like being in the background. That's why I'm the photographer; I'm the one behind the camera, not in the spotlight," Oliver told him, more honest than he'd ever been, even with Sarah. "I don't like the idea of people judging me for what they think they see or who I am. That's why I hated the rumor so much when it first came out."

"You didn't want to be judged?" James asked.

Oliver took a deep breath. "Because I don't want them to know that I'm gay," he finally said. He let it out, told the one person he'd swore he'd never tell. It felt weirdly good.

And after a moment or two, James replied with the one thing he never thought he'd hear his crush say.

"I know." Oliver stopped them from walking, his hand pushed against James' chest to physically stop him, and tried to speak, to understand exactly what the guy was saying. All that came out was incoherent spluttering. James let Oliver's hand fall and rubbed at the spot he'd been pushed. "I'm not as dense as people think. Just because I don't talk doesn't mean I don't notice. I'm not completely oblivious to the world and I know a lot more than people think I do."

"And that includes me?" Oliver whispered. "How?"

Smiling in what he hoped was a reassuring manner, James told him. "Well, when Kaley Buckingham, the hottest girl in school, not just in sixth year, asks a lowly fifth year out on a date, for God's sake dude, you say yes. You were the luckiest bastard in the world to get asked on that date and you said no. Straight, bi, any man but a gay man would never had said no to Kaley Buckingham. Also," and this time James' smile turned into a full on smirk, his eyes bright as though he knew something no one else should, "My eyes are up here," he pointed to his face, "They're not anywhere near my ass and they're definitely not around my front."

I'm not completely obvious, he'd said...

"Oh, God," he muttered, his head in his hands. This cannot be happening. And James continued talking.

"You're not as good at keeping secrets as you like to think. Although, it did take me awhile to figure it out and then believe that I was actually right, so congratulations on that," he said, trailing behind at a distance Oliver knew would never be safe enough. "It took that incident with Kaley in fifth year to finally see it and I didn't care enough to follow it through until after the article, when we grew closer, but I always knew where your eyes were going. And I don't blame you for finding me attractive."

The confidence in James' voice had him snapping his head back up and turning to face him; he began plotting ways of getting James back as he finished his little speech.

"I mean, look at me. Do you know what this is?" He gestured to himself. "This is me not looking like my messy haired, lanky father."

Oliver knew exactly what he had to say.

"You're Dad's hot."

The smirk was wiped off James' face intently. "Stop it."

He didn't stop. "I'd have your dad over you any day."

"Now you've crossed the line." James pushed past him, his hands almost going to ears to keep from hearing. He stopped himself just in time. "You're not getting back in the house now."

"Oh, and this dream I had last night. Woo!" He caught up with James and wrapped an arm around his shoulder, leaning in close. "The things he can do."

"And now I hate you."

Oliver let himself be pushed away. "That'll teach you to be cocky. This is very important to me." Although he did feel better because James had made one of his usual jokes rather than being serious, which would have been disastrous as James rarely was, he chose to keep that to himself. "I've never 'come out' willingly before."

"Really?" James didn't seem so surprised, but if he really wasn't as oblivious as people thought then he'd probably figured that out thanks to all the secrets.

"My parents found out just before we moved here and Sarah found out because I was, as you so nicely put it, staring at your ass," Oliver admitted. "You were supposed to be the first person to know because I wanted you to. Now you're just the first person I've told willingly."

"I'm honored either way," James told him. "Louis didn't want to tell people either, you know? So you're not alone with what you think. People say he was open and honest, but he was actually caught with his boyfriend by his mum when they were fifteen. Just kissing, nothing more, but he hated that it happened. He only told us so he could do it before his mother. Lily did the rest."

"That doesn't surprise me."

"So." James stopped and the silence grew for a few minutes, until Oliver prompted him to continue. "So, no girlfriends, if you weren't even willing to date Kaley. Any boyfriends? Or is that too personal?"

Oliver clicked his tongue as he processed the question. "There were a couple. Both here in England during holidays, both Muggle. Only one thing was wanted on both sides. It was awkward and weird."

It took a while for James to realize what he was referring to; his cheeks turned a light shade of pink, which Oliver noticed.

Makes a change.

"Can I ask you one more personal question? You don't have to answer."

"You can ask," Oliver said.

It was still a couple of minutes before James actually did so. "How did you get all those scars? I... accidentally glanced your way after your shower on Christmas day. Saw them around your middle."

He regretted asking the moment he looked at Oliver, he could tell; his face had gone pale and his heart beat madly. But he answered the question, even if it wasn't the truth, at least not the whole truth.

"An accident when I was eleven, it's not a nice story."

"You don't have to say," James assured him. They shared a look, a simple glance that held so much meaning.

James understood the need to keep secrets.

***

The New Years Eve party was so much louder than Christmas; Harry had been right, not that Oliver had had reason to doubt him. James watched him in amusement as person after person came in through the floo. Some waved in greeting as they passed them on the couch, some ignored them for food, drink and general fun. Most were around the age of James' parents, aunts and uncles; they'd probably worked long hours and wanted to wind down. Others were their kids, friends of the Weasleys.

Occasionally, James mentioned who a person was and gave a bit of information about them, though they mostly talked about going back to school and what they'd do with tutoring and lessons. Now that they were open about Oliver's secret, the American sometimes liked to make a comment about a guy who walked past, not realizing just how jealous it made James. Being attracted to James was one thing, but he had no idea if Oliver genuinely liked him and given how much he liked to talk about others, it was starting to look more and more like attraction was all it was.

It was driving James mad.

"Hey, who's that?"

Looking up to the table in the kitchen, James found the reason for Oliver's stare. The latest guy to catch Oliver's interest, and most likely the only guy now that he'd been noticed, was going through the selection of drinks. He was dressed semi-casually, his shirt untucked over his jeans, but they were no doubt designer. His hair was mussed up like he'd just gotten out of bed - that he'd just had sex was probably more accurate - but he made it look good. Even though James had never felt anything other than familial love for the man across from them, he could understand why Oliver would find him attractive. Everyone did; he looked good, he knew the right things to say and he was about as bad as a bad boy could be. Even for his age.

"That's Theo Nott."

"No way!" Oliver genuinely didn't believe it. "That's not your dad's friend! He can't be Harry's age."

"Oh, Theo will love you," James snickered. "Theo is the vainest person I have ever met; not including his children, appearance means everything to him. He kills anyone who doesn't say he's thirty."

That was a lie and Oliver knew it, but James often wondered if Theo wanted to.

"But don't worry, that's all natural... for now."

Oliver tilted his head just a little. "Wow."

"So crushing on my dad isn't enough, have to crush on his best friend, too?"

"Hell yeah!" There was no hesitation and James only tutted. "Come on, even straight you can't not appreciate that."

"I've known the man since I was four, I've called him 'Uncle'. I don't appreciate that," James said honestly. "Besides he's a really bad influence; he drinks and smokes and everything. He got my dad into them, as his way of coping after the war; they met at eighteen after my dad had won the war, so you'd think he'd be less susceptible to peer pressure. Or he really wasn't coping."

He didn't mention that he too had been influenced by them a little; that he'd started smoking over a year ago. Stress smoking, he'd called it, blamed his relationship with Melanie for it. It was still true. Though he rarely indulged.

"Come on, I wanna drink," James announced, changing the subject quickly. Conveniently, Theo had gone by the time they got there.

And then their friends came through.

***

Minutes after Tucker, Sarah and the others had gotten to the Burrow, they were all separated; Tucker went on about how much fun his Christmas had been, dragging James and Ryan - who dragged Emily - away as he did so, and Sarah talked about the hardships of cooking Christmas dinner but that she'd definitely do it again. When she asked how his Christmas had been, he told her about meeting the family, awking in bed with James and that he'd finally told James he was gay.

She freaked out when he got to the part about his crush knowing about said crush (in a good way), and then pouted when he admitted James didn't know just how deep that crush ran.

"Stop telling him about other guys and start telling him about him," she scolded when he was done. "You are basically lying and he won't wait forever!"

"He's not waiting now," he pointed out.

She tutted. "Boys are so oblivious."

She dragged him away for drinks and devised a plan to tell James that Oliver loved him. He wondered about ways of finding better friends. It was while Sarah was talking that Oliver realized he hadn't thought about her as much as he usually did; sure he missed her, she was his best friend, but he'd loved just being with James and wondered if he would miss that more once they were back in school.

It was nearly midnight when they all met again, drinks in hand and the countdown about to start. George and Roxanne were getting the fireworks ready and someone had turned off the music. Oliver found himself standing against a tree further away from the fireworks than everyone else; he wasn't too far from his friends, they were a few paces in front of him, but he felt like he was alone, like he was having a few minutes to himself, and he was grateful for it.

Even when James came and stood beside him, there was no talking; they just listened to the countdown to New Year and waited for the fireworks. Oliver was so amazed by the shows the fireworks were creating - no doubt a Weasley invention - that he didn't notice James come closer until his lips were against his cheek.

"Happy New Year, Ollie," he whispered, stepping back and turning to the fireworks once more.

Holy shit.



A/N: Yay, new chapter, guys! And James is getting bolder! ;)

If you've read Enchanted, you know all about Louis' tantrum in daycare when he was four. :P

I hope you enjoyed. Please let me know what you think.

Sam.

Chapter 16: Lakeside Encounters
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Just as Oliver expected, he missed being able to talk to James alone. Someone was always with or around them, whether it was a friend or just another student. Even the teachers seemed to be gravitating more toward them than usual.

(That was not paranoia!)

Their days were filled with classes and mountains of homework in preparation for NEWT exams. The only times they got alone was when James and Oliver were tutoring in a classroom rather than the library; it was generally for practical lessons, such as transfiguring large objects and all the potions James had him making. They were lessons that required a lot of their concentration and conversation rarely deviated from the subject matter. After two sessions, Oliver realized that what he missed the most was that he'd felt comfortable in being able to tell James anything.

But almost two weeks had passed and there had still been no word between them about what had happened at the party.

James had kissed him.

Sure, it was only on the cheek and could very well have been an innocent peck to follow New Year tradition - hell, he'd even seen Sarah allow a quick one from Tucker - but it was still a kiss. It had happened and it had come from someone completely unexpected, someone he wanted.

And now there was silence. Things didn't necessarily feel awkward between them, it was a lot of the same except with this little extra struggle in their voices that was barely noticeable to anyone else unless it was looked for. It was when Oliver tried to bring it up, that was when things got weird; he would stop abruptly, the silence would mount up with neither looking at the other, and James would eventually go back to whatever they were previously talking about.

It was so annoying.

And it was messing up his other studies. He was currently in Defense, his second lesson of the day; he barely remembered Charms and now he had no idea what was even being talked about. His mind kept straying to James' kiss and how they were going to fix whatever they were going through, and after fifteen minutes of unsuccessfully trying to pull his mind back on track, Oliver finally gave up and discreetly informed Sarah that he would be going through her notes later. When she enquired as to why, he only shrugged and promised to tell her later.

He forgave her for not seeing the kiss that night; she did have to deal with having Tucker's mouth on her's at the same time. Just thinking about what she went through sounded terrifying; he shivered.

The rest of the lesson went by the same; Oliver rested his head in his arms with his back hunched, so he was crouched as low as possible in an effort to hide behind the guy sat in front of him, while everyone else at least appeared to take notes, and devised a plan to get James to slip up and talk about what happened. He did not work up the courage to tell the guy about himself just to go back to secrets and half truths (well, not all of them); if there was even half a chance of something happening between him and James, he'll be damned if he wasn't going to take it.

The good thing about Defense Against the Dark Arts was that the professor always tried to end it a little early, giving everyone a few extra minutes to pack their stuff away and her time to organize her next lesson; this was no exception and five minutes before the bell rang, she ended the class and turned her back. Noise picked up as people packed their stuff away and conversed with friends. Sarah dropped her notes on top of Oliver's book and faced him properly, her voice low.

"So what's got you so preoccupied?"

Glancing around the room for onlookers, Oliver leaned in closer. "James kissed me at New Year."

He kept a hand on her shoulder, ready to cover her mouth and stop her from exploding with happiness and 'I told you sos', as she was prone to doing recently. He didn't expect her to remain silent, her body completely still except for the dropping of her jaw.

"Just a little thing on the cheek, for the tradition," he continued quietly. "But it was... surprising... and nice. And now things are a little weird. I've tried to talk to him about it, to find out what he wants from me... or with me. But he keeps changing the subject. It's like he wants to forget about it. Am I just putting too much stock in my imagination?"

"Probably," she muttered, sounding more like herself. It wasn't what Oliver wanted to hear; she was usually more positive than this. Noticing the crushed look Oliver knew he had, Sarah smiled reassuringly and pointed to the front desk across the room, where James was sitting with Emily. "That guy you love so much, he's not all that complex. You can read him like an open book. Easier still; he's a picture book with directions. He does stuff in the exact moment he thinks of it because he wants to; he kissed you because he wanted to. Maybe he's noticed his impulsive action and he's just embarrassed, because you are not a picture book with directions. You are a diary with a lock and a key and all the wards imaginable."

Oliver glanced James' way again, choosing not to share the man's words about him noticing everything with his friend. James Potter was far more complex than people gave him credit for and he knew that James would like to keep it that way.

"I know I'm usually the cheery optimistic one that tells you exactly what you tell yourself you don't want to hear even though you really do, and believe me, I want nothing more than to see you happy with someone, even if that person is James Potter," she continued and he believed every word she was saying. "But I can't sit by and watch you hide your life away anymore. So if you want to know what James wants, then you have to suck it up and ask him."

The bell rang, signaling the end of class and the beginning of their first free period; he pulled Sarah up and pushed through the crowds of people until they were close to the library and people had scattered, either to class or to their common rooms. Oliver handed the librarian his passes into the Restricted Section, more than thankful that Professor Burns liked him and Professor Greeves loved the idea of someone other than James and Lily Potter wanting extra credit. Checked and given the nod, Oliver gestured for Sarah to follow him into the most private part of the library.

"What part of 'I've tried talking to him' did you not get? He's avoiding the subject."

"Then you have to make him listen!" Sarah sighed, sounded as exasperated as Oliver felt. He loved her, he really did, but he was going in circles here and she was driving him crazy.

"Hence the reason I'm telling you this. I don't know how to get him to listen," he admitted. "What should I do?"

Sarah was quiet for a while, so long that he decided to look for the book James had requested for their next tutoring session rather than stand idly and wait for her to give him an answer. By the time he'd found the book, she was sliding onto the nearest table with the cheekiest grin on her face, and he was certain she'd best even the Cheshire Cat.

"Make him jealous, so jealous that he'd want to know what's going on between you two and will tell you himself. That way you don't even have to ask."

She seemed so proud of herself that he doubted his words would have any effect on her, and for that he was glad. He had to tell her, but he didn't want to upset or discourage her.

"I'm not that guy, Sarah. I don't like the idea of using someone to get something - or someone - else," he told her with a shrug that was guiltier than he would have liked.

"You're not using someone if they know about it and agree."

Oliver scoffed. "Oh, yeah. And who am I going to ask to do that? James knows I'm gay and, newsflash, no one else does."

Shaking her head in disappointment, a feeling she was most definitely directing at him, Sarah took him by the hand and led him to the entrance of the Restricted Section, pointing to the History section not too far away. Or more specifically to the person going through a book in that section. And Oliver knew how she'd gotten her idea.

"You ask the one person who must know something if he's been watching and flirting with you."

Oliver remembered the look on James' the last time he'd done anything close to flirting with Dion Halfpenny and told himself that the idea had merit. Still, the very thought of actually going through with it made his chest tighten and his stomach drop.

"I'll think about it," was all he managed to say, going back to his book.

Maybe there was a potion in it that could make him invisible. None of this would have to happen if they couldn't find him.

"Good. Now we've got that sorted, I need to ask you a question. Do you know that Melanie has been watching you a lot recently?"

"Yeah. I'm ignoring it," he told her truthfully.

"I think she's planning something, she's got that look in her eye, like that day she tried to get James to miss a Quidditch match."

Oliver remembered that day well; she'd planned this whole day for them and then feigned illness to guilt trip him into staying. It sounded simple when it was explained, but she'd gone through so much elaborate planning that watching it crumble around her had been more amusing than simply hearing that James had called it off. He got the school nurse involved because of the 'illness' and still went to play. That was when the break up rumors first circulated.

"Sarah, she's always planning something. I'm not afraid of her."

"What if she finds out about you and tells everyone?"

Having thought about that very scenario a lot, Oliver already had his answer. "I'd prefer it not to happen or that they won't believe her, but after everything that's happened with James that won't happen, so I'd congratulate myself on lasting this long and thank God I'm graduating in a few months. She can tell the world if she wants, but with a family like the Potters behind me - and I believe that to be true whether I get to be with James or not, we got on quite well during the holidays - she can't hurt me."

Faking a sort of sob, Sarah put her hand on her heart. "Look at my baby, all grown up and learning to not care what people think. I'm so proud."

***

Oliver missed the weekend game for tutoring, having agreed to prepare a number of fifth years for their OWLs; he might have said no if Professor Burns hadn't promised to write it up as extra credit for his school record. Teaching wasn't in his life plan, but he doubted it would be a bad thing for future employers to see. But even shut away in an old classroom didn't stop the cheers that seemed to echo around the castle, celebrating Slytherin's win.

It was past dinner and night had fallen hours ago by the time Oliver was back in his dorm; the plate of sandwiches he'd nicked from the kitchen on his way up didn't seem like enough for a proper meal, but it was all he cared to eat. He just wanted to lie in bed and rest, maybe even sleep.

Instead he found a pair of plain black swim shorts folded neatly by his pillow, a note on top of them.

The lake. As soon as you get this.


There was no name, but Oliver recognized the handwriting as Ryan's immediately. Confused and curious, Oliver stripped off his clothes and replaced them with the swim shorts; they were a little baggy around the leg, but the elastic hem molded to his hips and kept them up just fine. He found a plain t-shirt to throw on and slipped on his sneakers. Grabbing the plate of sandwiches to finish as he walked, Oliver left the dorm and made his way to the lake.

The air was freezing one moment and then warmth wrapped around him, sending away the goosebumps. Tucker's charms at work again, no doubt. On the grass, laughing and joking and drinking, was a group of lads Oliver recognized immediately - Dion and Jake sat against the tree with one of Slytherin's chasers, Christopher Reed. His friends sat on the other side of him, Albus being on of them. Tucker was lying close to the water, while Ryan and James stood along the edge.

Then Ryan jumped in.

"Fuck, it's freezing!" he yelled once his head was out of the water. "Ollie! Welcome to Slytherin's celebration party!"

"Glad to be here," he called back, walking along the edge. "Who decided that freezing to death was a good idea?"

"At the Weasley's New Year party, Ryan drunkenly decided that we should go swimming," Tucker said from the ground. "That led to a bet; if Slytherin won we'd party in the lake, if Ravenlcaw won Ryan would jump in starkers. We wanted Ravenclaw to win."

"Me too," Oliver joked.

"Come on in, Oliver, show them you're not chicken like the rest of them," Ryan said, falling back into the lake to float.

"Not being able to see what's in the water makes me a little apprehensive," Oliver admitted.

"That's half the fun."

Oliver's look of doubt only made James laugh harder. "Then why aren't you in the water?"

Acknowledging the challenge for what it was, James winked and stepped back until he was balanced along the lake's edge. Arms stretched out, Oliver watched as James fell backward into the lake, the splash loud in the quiet due to everyone staring, half amused and half awed that he actually did it.

James came out of the water, cursing and shrieking and unable to not laugh. "Anyone else coming in? The water's great," he lied.

One by one, the others followed, ignoring how cold they knew it would be just to join in the fun. When everyone else was in a sort of circle, huddled together as they talked, Oliver pulled off his t-shirt, kicked off his sneakers and jumped right by them.

They got him back for that.

***

Given who his father was and that Albus wanted to join law enforcement himself after Hogwarts, it wasn't a surprise to learn that his skill was defensive magic, not just in terms of defending himself from bad guys but also defending himself against the elements. The warming charms held for almost two hours, but became harder to maintain after Tucker had had a few drinks, so Albus' fire came in handy after that. It hovered over the ground, a controlled ball of gas and flame that kept them from getting cold, and the majority of the group sat around it.

The spell, though hard to keep going, was simple enough to learn, and since Oliver hadn't joined the others in drinking Ryan's never-ending supply of alcohol, he took a spot against a tree and created his own fire to keep warm, updating it whenever he needed to without much difficulty.

"Mind if I join you?"

Looking up, Oliver found Dion watching him with a warm smile. He nodded and scooted over, allowing for room by his side. Sarah's plan to make James jealous with Dion came to mind and seeing that Dion was quite attractive, with his body toned and easy going attitude, it was hard to push the thought away. But he managed it.

"Having fun?" Dion asked.

"It's always fun with them lot, I'm never bored," Oliver answered with a chuckle.

"You and James seem to get closer and closer the more I see you together," the boy by his side mused innocently. Oliver thought nothing of it until he continued. "How long have you been in love with him for?"

As much as he wanted to freak out - if one knew, it was only a matter of time before others did, and then James himself - Oliver controlled himself. No one had looked closely at him and his life at all and Dion had only started to after the article had come out during the summer. He'd known that the boy had known something; he could handle this.

"I won't tell anyone and no one else knows, at least I don't think they do."

"Why do you?" Oliver asked.

"I recognize the signs," Dion told him. He leaned in close. "There's this guy who lives a few streets away from me back home. He's a Muggle. He volunteers at this youth club every summer and I go there just to see him. I've loved him for three years and he still doesn't know my name."

"That sucks," Oliver said, sympathizing out loud, while inwardly grateful that James had always known him. "And third year. To answer your original question. Is that why you've been watching me? Figuring out how I feel based on what you know about yourself?"

Dion smirked a little. "Would you be mad if I said no?"

"No."

The kiss was entirely accidental, one moment they were smiling at each other and the next Oliver's hand was in his hair, pulling him close. Maybe he didn't want to pretend, maybe he just wasn't thinking; all he knew was that a little voice inside his head had gone 'fuck it' and the idea of being himself while at school, even just for a night, seemed very worth it, especially when the one he was kissing wasn't objecting.

He ignored the more rational voice telling him to stop before he was caught, the others weren't all that far away, because he couldn't bring himself to. It was exhilarating in a way, to feel strong arms around his waist, lips pressed hard against his own. The want another man gave only to him reminded him that, though previous experiences had been bad, he could never doubt who he was.

A girl would never be able to make him feel so good.

The light crunch of grass beneath shoes didn't stop them, but the familiar scent that accompanied it did cause Oliver to open his eyes. He found James standing by the tree, eyes on them and he took a harsh breath before closing himself off and walking away.

Oliver pushed back, his imagination replying everything that had happened right up until James had caught them. He'd never seen James so... angry? Sad? He couldn't quite describe the emotion he'd seen in James' eyes before forcing it all away.

Sarah's plan might have worked after all.

***

Except to remind him of a tutoring session after classes, James didn't talk to Oliver once. Since they'd spoken pretty much every day since school had started, even the other students had noticed; it was something Melanie enjoyed seeing immensely. No doubt, she was planning on ways of getting James alone again. Oliver wondered if she was lonely or loved him enough fight for him, or if she just wanted what she couldn't have; not many people would go through so much trouble.

The whole day had been so awkward, the two sharing looks but not talking, that when his final lesson of the day ended Oliver was almost tempted to send a note to James canceling their lesson. But he was a Gryffindor, he could be brave; he would not give in to a moment of cowardice just because his love life was screwed up. Figuring out Potions was more important and he'd prioritize. What was going on between him and James would be sorted out later.

James, since he didn't take History of Magic, was already in the Potions classroom they'd agreed to meet in, ingredients and a cauldron already set up.

"Did you do the reading on Wolfsbane?" he asked, going though his text book rather than looking at him.

"Of course I did," Oliver muttered. He set his bag down, removed his cloak and got to work. "Where do we start?"

James went through the instructions step by step, their task his only focus. Oliver followed his example, listening attentively and doing as instructed. For the most part, it went well, even the potion was coming along as it should. And neither spoke of anything other than work until the potion was almost complete.

"No, you're stirring too harshly," James scolded, stopping behind Oliver to take his hand and stir with him, showing him how it was done. "Too much and the ingredients will dissolve before they're ready. The potion won't work if that happens. See?"

The potion turned the color it was meant to, only that was no longer the focus. With James so close, Oliver almost forgot why they weren't talking in the first place. All he could think of was the man's hand in his, the other wrapped around his waist, and how right it felt.

Then James let go, pulled himself away like he'd been burned.

"That's good." He turned away and Oliver kept his head down, his eyes on the potion. It was easier. "Are you and Dion seeing each other?"

The suddenness of the question and the strange tone James used to ask it, didn't help matters and Oliver found himself acting more defensive than he probably should.

How dare he think he suddenly has a right to know.

"Is that any of your business?" he snapped.

James blanched, looking away again. "No. Sorry. Forget I asked." He began packing away his things. "You seem to have got it. I'll see you later."

Feeling like shit, Oliver blurted out the answer he should have given when he had gotten back to the dorm the night before. "No. No, we're not seeing each other. It was just a moment of madness. He doesn't even like me that much; he wants someone who lives near him."

"And you? What do you want?" James asked hesitantly.

"The guy I want is much closer to home. But I don't know how he feels about me."

For the first time all day, James looked him in the eye. "Maybe you should ask him."

He took off, leaving the classroom and Oliver as fast as he could, and "Do you love me, James?" was voiced to no one.



A/N: ...I didn't say they were making out with each other. *hides like the Cheshire Cat, who belongs to Lewis Carroll*

I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please let me know what you think. :)

Sam.

Chapter 17: Tell Him
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Maybe you should tell him.

That was easier said than done, given that the very person who'd given him that advice was the one he had to say it to, but that didn't stop Oliver from coming up with ways to tell him. Every idea was scrapped, every scenario making it worse, but he persisted; if James wanted him to share another secret, then he would.

If only he knew how.

At least they'd started talking again, that was something Oliver was grateful for. He'd take stilted conversation and uncomfortable glances over nothing any day. He didn't avoid Dion after talking with James, not outright, but he was thankful that being in different years and following different schedules kept them from crossing paths too much. Somehow he just knew that it made James better around him, more comfortable than just knowing they weren't together; their relationship, for lack of a better word, was damaged and seeing that he and Dion were not together helped to mend it.

Still, Oliver hoped to do more than just help; he wanted to either fix it completely or break it beyond repair and that would only be done by telling James the truth. He woke the morning of January 30th, the others in the dorm still asleep, and gripped the package in his hands. He prayed it wouldn't lead to breaking the relationship, and with everything that was going on, the chances of it happening were slim anyway, but he was still nervous.

Gingerly, Oliver climbed out of bed and dressed. He placed the package by James' bedside and left the dorm. With it still being early on a Saturday, the common room was completely empty; with so much homework being given during the week, people had started to complete them as they came, not wanting to work on weekends as much as they had to during the week. Not even Lily was up and she didn't like to sleep in.

As much he liked the idea of lying on the couch, going back to sleep, Oliver forced himself to move and left the common room; he had things he needed to do. If he was going to tell James the truth, he was going to do it right.

Oliver left, hoping James liked his present.

***

The alarm clock rang at ten am, just as he'd set it, and James roused from his sleep with his hands in his hair and a slight smile on his face. He couldn't quite remember his dream, it was like fragments of a broken jigsaw, but he knew it had been a good one. Stretching his whole body and yawning, James didn't realize that he'd been left a present until his hand came crashing on top of his beside table; it didn't hurt as much as it should have, his hand touching something smooth rather than hard.

Sitting up, James found the package. There was no card, or even a label stating who it was from; it definitely wasn't from his parents, they wouldn't have his presents sent to him until lunch time, if it was during a weekend. They knew he'd be up then. It also wouldn't be from Tucker; his friend actually wasn't bad when it came to gifts, but he was terrible at wrapping. He stopped doing that when he was ten.

Curiosity beat every other emotion he was feeling, and still sat in bed, James ripped off the wrapping as fast as he could. His hands closed over some sort of book; it looked professional, not old but definitely not something he'd find in a modern book shop. It was bound in black leather and on the back, at the bottom, was the initials J.S.P. in gold. From the back, James opened it up and flicked through the pages, belatedly realizing that it was a journal.

He didn't know who'd sent it until he got to the very front page.

James
A little birdie let slip your dream of becoming a psychiatrist. Maybe one day, this will be of use to you.
Happy birthday.
Love Oliver


It was written in some kind of fancy ink, a fountain pen if he had to guess, but the handwriting wasn't fancy. It was just Oliver's. Slightly messy, tilted a little to the left and all the letters more or less the same size whether they were uppercase or lowercase. But the thing James couldn't believe wasn't that he really was focusing on penmanship or that Oliver had bought him a present or even that Oliver had asked about him, it was the words themselves.

Love Oliver.

He'd signed it love Oliver. Normally, that wouldn't mean much to him; James signed cards with 'love' all the time, usually to family and Tucker, and they did the same for him. Any other friends who gave him a gift tended to use a prewritten tag that said 'from' or didn't give a card at all. Oliver hadn't given him either a tag or a card for Christmas, so using 'love' now had to mean something.

Maybe you should tell him.

Oh, God...


Jumping out of bed, journal resting on top haphazardly, James rushed to get ready and ran out of the dorm. Having noticed that Oliver's bed was empty, he kicked himself for not connecting the dots and realizing who'd given him the gift straight away; James had to find him, avoiding the subject was no longer an issue. Not when they had so much to get off their chests.

He was ready now, to listen to whatever Oliver had to say and to come out himself. It was his turn to tell the truth.

Maybe you should tell him.

Had he?

***

The birthday cake was left baking in the kitchen, so with nothing else to do there, Oliver found himself wandering the castle. He thought about James and if he'd found his present yet; did he see the message and get the meaning? He fully planned on telling James properly - in person - but the note was a starting point. If James understood it, if James knew when the time came, it might be easier to let it all out.

He hoped it would be as simple in real life as it sounded in his head. His head was known for exaggeration, so this being easy to follow had to be a good sign.

"Don't you look happy?"

The familiar voice sent shivers down Oliver's spine; not in fear, he'd meant what he'd said to Sarah, but the girl still unnerved him more than he liked. It wasn't normal.

"Do I have a reason not to be, Melanie?" he asked, turning to face her.

If he'd ever thought Sarah's smile bested the Cheshire Cat, Melanie's put him to shame. She was positively glowing, her eyes bright, her long top flowed over her jeans and she moved closer to him. If it weren't for the predatory gleam flaunted at him, he might have considered her pretty.

"Is it James making you happy? You have become the best of friends recently," she continued as though he'd never spoken. "I wonder what he'd say if he knew how you really felt, though."

His blood ran cold as his biggest fear started to come true; no matter what he'd told Sarah, he'd never wanted Melanie to know. He'd never wanted her holding that knowledge against him. She wasn't ever supposed to find out... How did she?

"How I feel?" he whispered fearfully.

Her smile wider, if that was even possible, Melanie moved her hands from around her back and revealed a piece of parchment. It was old and ripped and she treasured it in her hands.

"Reasons not to love James Potter," she read aloud.

"Where did you get that?" he demanded.

"I found it."

"Bullshit. That was in my third year Potions textbook, buried at the bottom of my trunk."

He tried to rip it from her hands, but, anticipating it, she pulled back quickly and had her arms behind her back again. If he was a few years younger, he would have wrestled it out of her hands, fought her for it. At seventeen, it seemed too childish to consider. He still considered it.

"I was looking for a Transfiguration book, I was told you had it, and it fell out. You have no idea how surprised I was to find it," she told him, her sincerity as false as the rest of her.

"You're a bitch, you know that. To go through my stuff." He gritted his teeth to keep from yelling at her, from letting out his frustrations in general, and took a step back. "You know what, I don't care. There's nothing you can do that's worse than what I've already been through."

He spun on his heel and left her in the corridor, itching to do something to her but mature enough to control himself. He wouldn't stoop to her level, but he was afraid of everyone finding out about him, of James finding out, from her that part of him wished he would.

James couldn't find out that way. Oliver had to find him.

***

It took almost twenty minutes for James to hear Oliver's voice and finding him in the middle of an argument with Melanie was not how he wanted his birthday to start. The fact that they seemed to be arguing about him made it worse. He went to turn the corner and stop it, ready to drag Oliver away from her if he had to, when something she said stopped him in his tracks and had him pressing against the wall to listen in.

"Reasons not to love James Potter."

Though he could believe Melanie would be vindictive enough to go through a person's stuff just to use something against them - on his bad days he was sure that was how she'd gotten him to date her in the first place - he could not believe that Oliver would write a list of things about him. Not one so... there were no words to describe just how much it hurt to hear.

He hid around the corner when Oliver stormed passed, counted to five and moved. Melanie, still looking in the direction Oliver had gone, noticed him immediately and her smile dropped at first, but then she must have decided to go through with her plan, which James presumed was to tell him about the list, because it came back. More seductive than mocking this time, like she thought him knowing about Oliver would bring him back to her.

She didn't know just how much he knew, what he wanted.

"Hey, James. Happy birthday."

"Why are you doing this, Mel? Why can't you just leave him alone? Now you're stealing his things!"

"You need to know," she protested, genuinely thinking so. She held up the piece of paper, and though she anticipated Oliver's reaction and was successful in moving, she couldn't beat his Seeker-improved reflexes. "Read it, James. Then you'll see that he's no good. But I meant what I said; I found it on the floor while looking for his level six Transfiguration textbook. I asked Aidan and he couldn't find his. America's was the next bed over. He looked and his heightened wolf eyesight must suck because he didn't notice it fall out when he moved the book it was in. Ask him if you want to. He was supposed to tell America."

He put it straight into his pocket; he'd ask Aidan later. "You want me to know, fine I know. Now leave us alone, or next time I'll think seriously about a restraining order. We're adults now, I can legally do that, but since we're still in school it can make your life quite difficult. But that doesn't mean I'll hesitate."

He made his way back to his dorm, ignoring her call his name. But he thought about what she'd said and he walked like there was lead in his pocket, that small piece of paper already causing so much damage.

***

"Hey! There you are, I've been looking for you."

Oliver came back into the dorm room, finding it empty except for James, who was sat on his bed. As soon as Oliver spoke, James looked up and watched him expectedly, like he'd been waiting for him the whole time. There was a scary sense of calm in the room, one he hadn't expected at all; he'd wanted excitement and fun, not even his run in with Melanie had changed that.

But James was serious; warning bells rang in his head, his gut reaction being to leave the room and wait until the storm had passed... or hide under a rock and never come back out. Given the look he was receiving from James, he almost picked the second option.

"Happy birthday," Oliver continued, trying to lift the mood. "I see you opened your present. Do you like it?" He was met with silence; Oliver was beginning to freak out. "James, are you okay?"

For the second time in almost an hour, Oliver heard "Reasons not to love James Potter" read back to him.

"And where did you get that?"

James shrugged, his eyes on the parchment rather than on him now. "Nicked it off Melanie. I went looking for you, heard you two arguing. She wasn't lying about finding it; Aidan searched for your textbook for her, and he waited to get it back, it ended up on the floor. I checked. Do you mean any of this?"

He knew what to say, he wanted to so badly, but the shock of James holding something he was meant to have ripped up and thrown away was too much and all Oliver could do was stare.

"It's one thing to read about faults that someone you care about and is meant to care about you has noticed," James continued, his voice quivering and Oliver couldn't tell if it was due to anger or sadness. "But it's so much worse reading about faults I didn't even know I had, faults someone I care about and thought cared about me has noticed."

"In my defense, I was thirteen when I wrote that and barely a month before, you'd spread rumors and lies about me," Oliver pointed out, his own tone raising. He fought to keep from yelling; they weren't supposed to be yelling. "I didn't exactly want to like you after that. You were never meant to see it."

"Do you mean it?" James demanded.

"Would I have become friends with you now if I still cared about or meant any of those things I wrote down?" Oliver asked instead. After everything they'd been through, surely he knew the answer to that.

A low sound came from James' throat, Oliver could only describe it as a growl, and he jumped off the bed, scrunching up the list as he did so and throwing it to the floor. "I'm not talking about the list, I've had time to process the list and I understand that I hadn't made the best first impression. I can get past the stupid list. I'm talking about the title and the journal and everything that has happened that has led to this moment; do you mean it? Do you love me?"

Oliver was wrong; it wasn't easier. Maybe it might have been if it'd been even a little like how he imagined it, primarily if James had said it instead of asking.

"James -"

"No 'James', no 'look', it's a simple question. Do you love me or not?"

"Yes, alright!" he snapped. He didn't mean to, didn't want to, but for over three years he'd been keeping quiet, having only one person in the world to talk to about the things he really wanted. He didn't mean to and he didn't want to, but he had to. So Oliver snapped and he shouted and he let it all out. "From the moment I met you I have wanted you, only you, and God knows I tried not to love you, especially after you were such a dick to me. But you just had to apologize and be nice and good and adorably weird and I love you. There, are you happy now?"

His outburst must have shocked James as much as him because he stood there, doing absolutely nothing. His face was expressionless, he was as still as a statue - or he would be if Hogwarts statues weren't prone to moving. Oliver took the moment to calm down.

"I love you," he finished softly.

It was apparently the right thing to say. The statue came to life, his eyes wide and his gaze sharp; it was a look Oliver had seen before but had never been able to pinpoint, now he knew exactly what it was - he knew about someone, what they wanted or needed, or he'd gotten something off them.

He'd gotten Oliver.

James' hand grabbed Oliver's t-shirt, pulling him closer; their heads bumped but neither acknowledged it, James' lips touched his, the moment light and barely a kiss. Oliver was close to moving in, making it official, when voices could be heard from outside the dorm and the door started to open.

They jumped apart and James flung it open the rest of the way, surprising Aidan and Jake so much that they fell back into each other and Jake hit the wall.

"We're busy, fuck off." He slammed and locked the door.

Oliver spun him around seconds after hearing the click and pressed James against the door. This time there was no brief touch, no hesitation between either of them; he pressed his mouth against the other man's, putting everything he had into that kiss. And James did the same, matching each scrape of teeth and graze of the tongue, until their breathing had become shallow.

They didn't stop. Oliver moved to his jaw, his neck, the sensitive bit of skin were his neck connected with his shoulder to make him moan. James let him, his hands trailing Oliver's rib, the hem of his jeans. Boldly, he pushed up Oliver's top to flex his fingers over his stomach, loving the way the man shivered at his touch, how he felt beneath his hand.

He pushed Oliver toward the bed, the top being pulled off as he did so. In that moment, they both knew they should stop, that things were getting a little out of hand, but in that moment they were both so sure it might be a dream that stopping was too hard.

James tugged off his own t-shirt and pushed Oliver onto his own bed. Having no clue as to what he was actually doing, James just went with his gut; he moved to hover over him, falling further down until he was on top, Oliver pressed against the mattress.

Happy birthday to me.



A/N: If that doesn't make up for the the last chapter, then the next chapter will. I promise.

The Cheshire Cat still belongs to Lewis Carroll.

I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please let me know what you think!

Sam.

Chapter 18: The Birthday of All Birthdays
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If they were really honest with each other, and themselves, then sitting on top of the covers, clothes half off and together was just the start of a birthday they should be enjoying. They'd start with fooling around but not go much further than that because it was still new and James had never been with a guy before, and then they'd sit and talk like normal and Oliver would get the birthday cake. It would be a birthday to outdo all pervious birthdays.

In reality, fooling around was more gut instinct and teenage hormones than a birthday present and it abruptly ended when the glamor charm around Oliver's scars faded just as James wrapped an arm around his waist. The bubble popped and, recoiling, Oliver moved to sit on the bed. James sat up and joined him and that was where they stayed.

For fifteen minutes, they sat in silence and let what should have been the start of finally admitting to what they wanted become an awkward encounter - at least on Oliver's end, James just didn't know what to say. He'd never been in a situation like this one.

He wouldn't have said anything at all if he didn't hate awkward silences.

"So... that was new," he blurted out.

Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Normally, Oliver would laugh at his random moments and call him an idiot, and he'd hoped the same would happen now; the tension would break and they'd start talking again. Instead, Oliver scrambled to his feet and fixed his pants, muttering words that probably didn't make sense to him and definitely didn't make sense to James. He pulled on a t-shirt - James' - and found his shoes.

"I have to... go," was all he said.

"You know, Oliver, one day I'm going to knock this crap you do right out of you," James vented his frustration, grabbing another t-shirt and throwing it on. "Because this indecisiveness of yours, wanting to be with me and then running away, is driving me crazy. I know what you want!"

Oliver still left the room, leaving James alone. He thought about taking it out on his things, and then on Oliver's things, and then just scream. When Lily didn't get her own way, she screamed and it seemed to work for her. He didn't do any of those things; he knew what Oliver wanted and he'd waited this long to give it to him, but he also knew that Oliver had spent years hiding it and pretending it didn't exist, so having it now, so suddenly, was likely messing with his head a little. Maybe he thought it was still a dream - James did, if he was being honest about that, too - or maybe he just needed time to process the idea of having what he wanted. Either way, James would give him that time.

An hour would do. If Oliver wasn't back in an hour, apologizing for freaking out and telling him what he'd been wanting to say, then James would go get him and he'd make their talk public if he had to. As long as they had it, he didn't care.

Leaving the dorm, James asked around for Sarah. Talking to her didn't exactly make him feel comfortable, but she knew about Oliver and he could tell her about himself. Tucker didn't know about Oliver and he wasn't going to tell anyone without the man's permission, not even his best friend; he wasn't crazy enough to risk Oliver killing him for it.

But Sarah couldn't be found; rumor was she was with her brother David, but no one could say where he was either and he didn't want to go searching for her. He'd have asked Tucker where she was, he was bound to know, but he couldn't be found either. The next person on his list was Ryan; Oliver had told him that had never told his other friend, but Ryan clearly knew something. He made so many jokes and innuendos and commented on James and Dion when they were near him. The Slytherin had to suspect. If he could get that out of him first, then James could talk.

The Slytherin common room was in his sights by the time he'd finally decided to go through with his plan to talk to Ryan. He banged on the wall, reminding himself to get the password off Ryan next time, and waited for someone to open the door or a Slytherin wanted to get in.

The former happened first; the kid had to have been first year but she looked at him with such anger that he jumped back a little.

"You're very annoying, do you know that?"

"I'm looking for Ryan Marsh," he told her, side-stepping her to get inside. He was halfway to the stairs when the girl finally got close enough to tell him that Ryan was at a Prefects meeting. James stopped and cursed; those tended to last ages, the Head Boy left no stone unturned. He made a quick second decision and continued up the stairs. "Then I'm looking for my brother."

He found the sixth year boys dorm after a couple of tries, taking vindictive satisfaction in breaking up a young couple in the second room, who had gotten about as close as he and Oliver had only twenty minutes ago. The third room was much like the others; three beds lined each wall rather than circling the room like Gryffindor's, everything was dark green and made the place seem cold. And yet his brother and his best friends laughed and talked and acted more comfortable here than they did at home.

"James?" Albus noticed him with a frown. "Why are you here?"

"Gotta talk to you, everyone else get out."

He pushed the door open as wide as it would go and and extended his arm as a gesture to leave. It took a nod from Albus before the others slid off the beds they were sat on and left the room. He and Alexa shared a look, and then she brushed past James and shut the door behind her.

"What's up, brother?"

Nerves kicked in now that James was finally there and ready to talk. He wiped his hands on his jeans and took a seat on the end of Albus' bed.

No wonder Oliver always ran away.

Patience didn't run in the Potter family and Albus was no exception; in fact he was probably the worst, because he had very little patience for anyone and anything, unless your first name was Alexa and your last name was Nott. Unlike Lily, however, he knew control and how to keep a lid on impatience when it was really important. So his brother sat and waited until James told him what he'd come to say.

"I'm bisexual."

Albus did nothing more than raise his eyebrows. "Was that supposed to be a secret?"

"You didn't know!" he scowled, understanding how Oliver had felt the night he'd told James the truth.

"No, not really," Albus admitted with a shrug. "But you've never really given a damn about gender; you'll happily flirt with anyone in your general direction and I've seen you turn your head at a guy or two. You don't even realize you're doing it most of the time. But you did. So this isn't surprising. What got you to acknowledge it? Oliver?"

"What makes you think it was Oliver?"

Albus smirked. "Lots of things. I won't tell anybody if that's why you're nervous. I'm not Lily and I don't care enough to tell."

"You promise? If he finds out I told you, he'll kill me." His brother nodded assuredly and James sighed in relief, glad his chance to talk about things was still available, even if he couldn't tell his brother everything. "Oliver told me how he felt about me and we... celebrated my birthday." He left out the list and how they'd gotten there. "Now he's hiding. That's not the point; it took me months to figure myself out and what I want and now we're so close and he's... he's been keeping secrets for so long... I told myself I'd let him think it through, but what if he decides I'm not worth the hassle?"

"Then he's a bigger idiot than you," Albus stated imply. "And I think you're a pretty big idiot."

"You're a good brother," James said sarcastically.

"I try. Come on, James, Oliver probably has less of an idea of what to do than you do. But if he didn't think you were worth the hassle, then he wouldn't have gone against all his previous plans to hide and risked being caught to celebrate your birthday." Albus leaned in close and put a hand on James' shoulder. "So maybe you should go and find him."

He pushed his brother off his bed.

"Ow," he mumbled, rubbing his head.

"You deserved that for forcing my friends out and acting like an idiot when you know you just have to talk to him," Albus said, smiling sweetly as his brother lay on the floor.

Rolling over, James got to his feet and wiped off bits of dust. "I'm gonna go now. Thanks, Al."

"Don't mention it. Ever. Oh, and James." He turned around, his hand on the door handle, and met Albus' small but genuine smile. "Happy birthday."

***

Having a pretty good idea as where to look, it wouldn't have taken James very long to find Oliver if he hadn't chosen to dawdle. Not to prolong the conversation they had to have - he was anxious to get that out of the way - but to make sure that Oliver had enough time to think. He didn't want to get there only to hear "I can't talk right now"; it would probably kill him.

(Metaphorically speaking, he knew, although maybe telling Oliver it would kill him might help... He declared himself officially insane.)

James didn't understand the appeal of the lake, only that it was generally where Oliver went when he was sorting through his pictures. He could work in peace there. Though Oliver hadn't taken his camera or pictures with him when he'd run off, James suspected the guy would still feel that sense of peace.

As predicted, there he was. Calmer than he'd been when he left and skimming stones over the water, Oliver only nodded in greeting when he noticed James standing across from him.

"I love the journal," he said once he was close enough that he didn't have to shout. "I didn't tell you that when you asked before. Who told you I want to be psychiatrist?"

Oliver selected one of the stones hovering by his side and rolled it over in his hand before throwing it. "Tucker. I asked him if he had any birthday ideas for me just before we left for Christmas. 'He wants to be a shrink and he loves to write,' he said."

"I do," James admitted with a sheepish grin. He took one of the stones and joined in. He couldn't skim the stones as well as Oliver, they fell in after a couple of ripples were made. "My mum, she used to make us write letters when we were kids. Instead of yelling and fighting, she'd tell us to use our words. It didn't work out and my dad never encouraged it, but that's how it started. My first year here, I wrote an essay every day; they weren't homework, I just handed them in."

"That's sad and pathetic, I don't know what I see in you," Oliver replied, but his lips curled upward enough to show he was joking. "Why did you stop writing the essays?"

"I joined the Quidditch team, worked hard to be the best and didn't have as much time. Made sure to devote more time to my studies, though. To go to a good university and have my dream job."

"Why a shrink?"

James faltered and his throw was awkward; the stone fell right into the lake with a plop. "It's a long story with multiple plot twists. Maybe one day, I'll tell you. Just like you'll tell me your story."

James' eyes stopped at Oliver's side. "Maybe," he murmured. "I'm sorry I ran away. I just needed to process what was going on. I wanted to tell you the truth, but I didn't expect a semi-naked make out session on my bed. It was a little too much, you know?"

"I get it," James promised. He threw the last stone and turned to face Oliver properly, not quite touching him but close enough to know it was more than friendship he still wanted. "But just know that it's not one-sided, nor was it an experiment or an emotional reaction. I really like you, Oliver, and I'd like to see where it could lead."

"Why now? Why are you interested in me?" He seemed desperate to know.

"Because you're sweet and funny and adorably weird," James said, copying his earlier words. "And I love when you try to act all controlling." He thought back to the Halloween photo shoot. "That was a fun day."

"Okay then..." Oliver didn't get it.

"There's a point to this," James promised. Daring himself to move closer, he bunched Oliver's top in his hands and kept him close, their foreheads touching. "I know you, what you're like and what you want, your secrets. I'm a terrible liar and I cave under pressure, but I understand that it's important to you and I'm willing to keep it with you. Because I like you. I know you say you love me, but you only know what you've seen; one day you might love me completely, but we have to get there first. If you're okay with that."

Oliver answered with a kiss; it was more forceful than their almost first and gentler than their actual first, a nice mix that had them both wanting it to last and not willing to push for more. James found his hands trailing down Oliver's body to rest against his hips while firm hands ran through his hair.

It was better than any kiss he'd had with the girls he'd dated.

"You're sure about this?" Oliver asked when they parted.

"I'm pretty sure you'll find a way to make the secrets worth it," James joked.

Drifting a little, his thoughts changing quickly, Oliver allowed himself to smirk. "Oh, I've got ideas."

This is going to be one interesting relationship.

***

James had to admit, spending his birthday lounging about in an unused classroom with chocolate cake and a new boyfriend wasn't a bad birthday at all. A surprise, his birthdays were usually loud and controlled by Tucker, but he found he liked this a lot better. Probably because he actually had someone he cared about to celebrate it with; he wasn't alone while friends drifted away to continue celebrating with someone else.

He knew, deep down, that it was also because things were finally right with Oliver again. It could be any day of the week and he'd still call it a great day.

It was almost time for dinner when James remembered that his presents from his family would likely be on his bed by now and his grandmother would kill him if he didn't at least send a thank you back. He couldn't go too long without sending one, he was just as bad a liar on paper as he was in person and they'd want to know something; he was sure Oliver would agree to his parents knowing, but no one else. Lily was nothing compared his Aunt Fleur and Nana Molly.

Groaning, James pulled himself up and then Oliver, and picked up the empty plate. The plan was to take the plate to the kitchen and go to the Great Hall to eat, but once there and alone again hands started to roam and kissing became a thing; they ate in the kitchen and, knowing the two most important people to them would demand to know where they'd been all day and since they trusted them, they agreed to tell Sarah and Tucker.

They found Sarah first, reading the Prophet on the couch; she looked surprised to find them standing in front of her, but not seeing them together.

"Where's Tuck?" James asked, getting straight to the point. He'd leave her to Oliver.

"Upstairs, wondering where you are," she answered, finding the paper more interesting.

Heading up the stairs, he silently wished Oliver good luck when he heard her demand to know what was going on. Just as Sarah said, he found his own best friend lounging on his bed with a magazine and a packet of sweets.

"And where have you been?"

James took a deep breath, shut the door and let it out.

"I'm dating Oliver."

***

"So," Sarah prompted, throwing the magazine to the side and patting the couch for him to sit down. There was hesitance in his step, but Oliver eventually joined her on the couch. Looking around, he wished she had been the one upstairs; there weren't too many people around them and none of them seemed to be listening, but he would have felt so much better completely alone. "Oliver! What's going on with you and James? Did you talk? Did you tell him the truth?"

He nodded once; it was the truth, even if it hadn't gone according to plan. He shut Sarah up before she acted too excited.

"We've kind of spent the day... making out," he whispered. "Well, I say day; there was an intermission around the middle."

"Why?"

Shrugging as though it was no big deal, Oliver forced out an answer. "It was kind of sudden in the beginning, we were actually fighting, so after the kissing I may have freaked out and run away."

Sarah sighed, quite able to believe everything she was being told. "From the beginning."

He opened his mouth, ready to tell her everything, when the sounds of heavy footsteps came from the stairs and Tucker was running in, James close behind. Tucker, too focused on getting to the others to stop, jumped over the back of the couch and bounced on the spot Oliver had been quick to move away from.

"Explain," was all he said.

So Oliver did; it was the most rushed, whispered conversation he'd ever had.

It was still too long.



A/N: New chapter. And you finally have them together. I've written up to chapter 20 and I aim to finish chapters 21-24 today, so they'll all be up later. How exciting. :D

I hope you enjoyed. Please let me know what you think. :)

Sam.

Chapter 19: Ready
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The first few days of their new relationship - in an official capacity - were the most awkward days of James' and Oliver's lives. Not with each other; apart from the ability to make out during their tutoring lessons (and the occasional holding of hands whenever James acted as though he was too lazy to leave the classroom), their relationship hadn't changed much. They still made random comments to make the other laugh and they still argued over sports. The only difference was that now James was privy to parts of Oliver's life he hadn't been before, such as the embarrassing pictures he used to hide away.

No, the awkwardness came from their two closest friends; every time they were near, they'd watch them. Tucker would mime embarrassing questions and make gestures. Sarah would ask what they were doing or go on about how long she'd had to wait for them to get this far. And it wasn't to be nosy or even to play concerned friends wanting to keep their secret, it was purely to embarrass them. Apparently they agreed that James and Oliver deserved everything they got for putting them through the horror of watching them dance around each other and had joined forces.

It had taken days to find a way to ignore it (avoiding them) and get them back (kissing in front of them, though that only worked on Tucker). It had taken the word of an upcoming holiday to shut them up, or at least put their schemes on hold.

Valentine's Day.

The dreaded pink filled day, that both attached boys and single girls dreaded. The day that meant hearts and chocolates and God only knew what as a way of declaring love, forgoing the latest diet to hide how depressed you feel for being single with candy or simply getting into a person's pants.

And for the first time ever, Oliver had a boyfriend to share it with.

Surreal didn't even begin to describe what he was feeling.

They hadn't talked in detail about what to do during the holiday; it was on a Tuesday, so they couldn't exactly book at table at Ellie's (nor could they afford it), and just because Oliver had a boyfriend with whom he could celebrate the day with (if you considered it a day that required celebration, which he didn't), it didn't mean he was going to. At least, he wasn't planning on making it into such a big thing; it wasn't a birthday or a special occasion. The idea of doing something, however, sounded quite... nice.

He knew James had bought presents with his last girlfriends, but he didn't expect any himself; Valentine's day would literally be day fourteen of their relationship. It was too new for presents, especially with the holiday being so soon, and neither of them had time to go out anyway.

Sarah said he was just making excuses to not buy presents, but that was only because she loved an excuse for presents. Oliver considered his reasoning quite logical and he wasn't going to change his mind.

He knew James would agree.

Instead of thinking of what to buy, he focused on what they might do. He didn't think of privacy and keeping people from finding out, they came as a package deal for what he hoped might be a romantic night, so that wasn't important. Doing something for James was; he wasn't the type to care who 'wore the trousers' in a relationship and he was all for them being equal in theirs, but James had always been the one to plan for the day and the idea of doing something for him felt like a good one.

Sarah nudged him and Oliver went back to reading his Defense textbook, but that wasn't his focus. Not this time.

***

"What are you thinking about?"

Blinking, James came back from his thoughts and dropped his arm, letting it rest on top of his book. The corner of the library they were sat at was empty except for them two, James couldn't even hear the usual whispers on the other side of the bookshelf, so he knew they were completely alone; Oliver really knew the best places to go.

He considered it safe to talk. "I'm trying to figure out what to do with Ollie for Valentine's Day."

"Funny," Tucker snorted. "Sarah says he's doing the same thing. Is it weird not automatically thinking you have to do the 'guy' stuff?"

"Tuck, half my family are scary, independent women and my only proper female friends are Sarah and Emily; I rarely do the 'guy' stuff," James reminded him. "If Oliver thinks of something for us to do, I'll welcome it with open arms. Because I got nothing."

He cast a hopeful glance his best friend's way.

"Dude, I've never been on a date, let alone in a relationship," it was Tucker's turn to remind him.

"That's because Sarah's the only girl for you," James mimicked him.

"And one day she'll realize it," he said, throwing James' quill at his head.

"Who will realize what one day?" the very girl they were talking about asked, her eyes going from the empty to chair by James to the empty chair by Tucker and only going to the latter because Oliver nudged her out of the way and swiped the seat beside James for himself.

"Hey you," Oliver said with a smile, leaning in and waiting for James to close the gap. The kiss was quick and light and still enough for Tucker to feign vomiting. James would have punched him, but he'd done it with everyone James had ever been with, so he was used to it and Oliver didn't seem to care at all. "I hear you can't think of a plan for Valentine's Day."

Eyes wide, James turned to Sarah and Tucker, the former checking her nails while the other buried his head in a book. "Do you two tell each other everything now?"

"Only the stuff about you two," Sarah informed him casually. "You're the only thing we have in common."

"Ow," Tucker muttered and the hurt look wasn't completely faked. He shook it off, or he tried to; he turned to James and Oliver completely, his smile back though it didn't reach his eyes. "You could have dinner? My dad likes to take my mum out on Valentine's Day and she always looks forward to it."

"We can't go out during the week and even if we could, there's only one good restaurant in Hogsmeade and we can't afford it," Oliver pointed out.

James leaned back to rest his head on the man's shoulder, smiling softly when he wrapped an arm around his neck to keep him close. "Well, my dad would probably pay for it, but he'd hold it over us for the rest of our lives and I don't really think that's worth it."

"Then why bring it up?"

Wisely ignoring that, James pulled himself up straight. Oliver's arm stayed around him, but with their bodies aligned, Oliver's chin ended up resting on James' shoulder as well.

"Dinner sounds good, though. I know where we can go."

"Hmm, where?" His breath whipped around James' ear, tickling the sensitive skin.

James turned his head to whisper in Oliver's own ear. "Patience." He smiled at Tucker; it was wide and seemingly innocent, yet it had his best friend cringing. "I'm going to need a little help pulling it off."

Tucker whimpered... just a little bit.

***

"You know, I don't understand why we have to do this; there's only me and Aidan in here and if he can't smell Oliver all over you then he's not unleashing his full werewolf potential."

For the millionth time that day - okay, that was a slight exaggeration - James let out a sigh and gave his friend a look. He focused on finding something good to wear first, debating what he could say that would get Tucker to understand, because clearly his other explanations weren't working.

"Tuck, keeping Aidan from asking questions is not the issue, and though I would not be surprised by his heightened senses picking something up, that's not his only asset, so stop commenting on it." Turning away from him, James held a plain white shirt up to his chest and imagined wearing it; it didn't feel right. He chucked it back into his trunk. "Your job is to keep everyone else from finding out; stop Jen and Jake from looking for Quidditch answers, keep Dion from looking for Olliver."

With Dion's permission, Oliver had told him all about the Muggle he was in love with and that their kiss was a one off; it had never happened before and never would again. Still, James didn't like the idea of them hanging out alone. Jealousy was a new emotion and he was trying to keep it in check, but sometimes it was just easier to keep them away.

Fortunately, Oliver found it hilarious.

"What's Sarah doing?" Tucker asked him.

"She's in the library, studying. The odds of Oliver being with her are high, so no one will ask questions," he answered, throwing away the red shirt without even looking at it. Nah. "When she comes back, she'll be making sure that you do your job."

"Won't people wonder when they see him come back and get changed?"

James shook his head, frowning at his small selection of clothes. "No, they packed whatever he's wearing tonight and took it with them. He'll change somewhere else. Only I will get the awkward stare and have people wondering where I'm going."

"So it's a regular Friday night."

"Sure," James nodded along, seeming to agree. "Except it's Tuesday, it's Valentine's Day, I'm spending the evening with my boyfriend, and I'm not looking to score."

"Not even a little?"

James pulled out a black shirt, it seemed plain until the light hit it and then stripes looked like they were glistening. Taking off his school shirt, James tried it on; the fabric was soft against his skin, the bottom barely touching the hem of his trousers so his stomach could be seen every time he moved his arms, and it clung to his body in a way that showed off his broad shoulders and biceps but didn't look too small. Satisfied, James shrugged off his trousers and added his best pair of jeans to the outfit.

Tucker gestured to it. "Because it looks like you're looking to score."

"Tuck, I have not, am not and do not ever plan to share my love life with you, beyond what you get to see. I didn't talk to you about sex with Melanie, so why would I talk about sex with Oliver?"

"Don't ever," Tucker made him promise. "As your best friend, I'm just interested in how special you consider this relationship, not just this night. You know, since Oliver is also a friend. I never want things to get awkward. Usually, you just want one thing. Saying you don't tonight is a good sign."

He didn't say it because it was the smallest thing he hoped would come out of tonight, but James did want it. Part of him wondered if he was just nervous about being with a guy for the first time and wanted to get it over with; deep down, he knew that wasn't true either. In the last two weeks, he and Oliver had done a lot, more than he'd ever done with his last dates, and things he'd never even considered before. The next step, the last step, was sex. They never talked about it, things usually just happened in the moment, and he had no idea how Oliver felt or what he wanted. He did know that Oliver was not a virgin and technically James could be considered one.

When he thought about Oliver and sex, his mind conjured up all the things that could go wrong. But when he was with Oliver, all those thoughts went away and he knew he was ready to try.

So if things happened that led to going all the way, James sure as hell wasn't going to stop it.

"Don't worry, Tucker," he told his friend, slipping on his shoes. "Things between me and Ollie are good and I don't intend on messing it up." He rose to his feet and stretched out his arms. "How do I look?"

"You're not really my type," Tucker admitted. "But Oliver will probably wanna shag you."

"Thanks. Gotta go."

As he expected, James got a few looks as he left the common room, but Tucker had been somewhat right about it being a 'regular Friday night' (he didn't go out that much, but just enough that it no longer attracted attention) and even though it was odd to see him dressed up on a weekday, the only person who asked about it was Lily. He didn't answer her.

"Where are you off to?" his cousin Hugo asked outside of the common room portrait. He must have spent the afternoon in the Muggle Room because he was carrying his laptop in his hands.

"Out. Do me a favor and keep Lily from following me?"

Hugo raised an eyebrow. "What's in it for me?"

It took James a few minutes to think of something that would appease his cousin, a few minutes he knew he'd regret if Oliver was already at their meeting spot, but it was something that the fourteen year old evil freak of a genius would love.

"Next time I'm in Hogsmeade, I'll bring you back all the sugar quills I can carry."

It took less time for Hugo to answer, his sweet tooth winning this round. "Deal."

See, freak.

James walked as though he was aiming for the stairs, but once he was sure that Hugo was in the common room he changed course, doubling back and stopping in front of the Room of Requirement. Thankfully, Oliver wasn't there before him; he came just after. Dressed in white shirt that looked a little too big, the sleeves stopping over his hands and the hem falling past his hips, Oliver paused a few paces away and spun slowly, letting James see everything.

Like James, he chose to keep the first couple of buttons open, revealing just enough skin to make him want more.

"Not bad," Oliver commented. "So the Room of Requirement? Why here?"

"It's the most private place in Hogwarts." Holding out his hand, James pulled Oliver to him and covered his boyfriend's eyes with his hands. Then he closed his eyes and gave the Room the thought required for their date. He quickly moved his hands, so only one covered Oliver's eyes this time, and lead him inside. When the door was shut, James let go. "Happy Valentine's Day."

***

Oliver had never been in the Room of Requirement before, he'd never had a reason to, but since the word 'room' was in the title, he'd assumed the Room was a room, but currently the Room was really not a room.

It was a garden.

Or you could call it a garden. The grass beneath his feet didn't feel like grass should, the ground was more like a carpet, and a breeze made the leaves on the trees and the flowers in the bushes sway, but no breeze brushed his cheeks. The temperature hadn't changed at all.

The only thing Oliver was sure was real was the basket in the middle of the room.

"It worked out pretty well, considering the room is broken," James mused.

"Broken?" How a room could break, Oliver didn't know. But he didn't think it was impossible; he knew what the Room could do.

"There was a fire during the war. It destroyed one of the rooms and now its magic glitches." On cue, one of the trees faded and came back, taking away the illusion of being outside. "But it works well enough. I remember you said five star dining wasn't your style, so I figured you'd prefer comfort food in the garden. I would have gone for dinner and a movie, but an illusion this strong only creates the shell, so to speak. A film wouldn't play."

"I love it," he promised. "So what did you pack?"

He soon found out that James knew him way better then he'd ever given the guy credit for. Packed in the basket was an assortment of dishes that Oliver loved; garlic bread, a bowl of spaghetti with meatballs in a tomato sauce, chocolate cake and strawberries with an number of dipping sauces and cream. It was comfort food and it was his favorite. James had the same; the man would have preferred pizza, Oliver knew, so him having Oliver's favorite made was what he loved about their meal so much.

They lay on the makeshift grass, like it was a proper picnic, and they kept the conversation light. They talked about primary school and they laughed about their friends. They avoided the media, Oliver's scars and him leaving for Florida after graduation.

"No, dip it properly," James laughed, guiding Oliver's strawberry into the bowl until it was covered in melted chocolate. Oliver ended up having chocolate around his mouth and up his cheek trying to eat it.

At least it didn't get on my shirt.

"You know, if you'd told me you loved me sooner, we could have done this ages ago," James joked, referring to getting chocolate on him. He wiped it off as he said so, licking off any remnants on his fingers.

"If you'd noticed me sooner, I think you mean," Oliver counted smugly. "Besides eating chocolate off me is a little inappropriate at sixteen."

"But seventeen's fine?" James asked in amusement.

"Seventeen is adult age," he shrugged. "Plus you're eighteen and we're talking about you."

Laughing, James conceded and continued to dry his fingers with a napkin. They finished the strawberries, put the empty dishes back into the basket and, full, lay on the backs on the grass, watching the stars in the bewitched sky.

"I'm glad nothing happened until now," James spoke suddenly. He didn't look at Oliver as he spoke; he didn't have to, his cheek were tinged pink either way. "We're mature now, a little, we're... experienced. We're ready for certain things. Do you agree?"

"Well, that depends," Oliver murmured with a curious frown. "Are you trying to talk about sex or are you just lost for words?"

James nudged him in the arm and focused on the stars, muttering, "The former."

Oliver gripped his boyfriend's hand - he really loved that word in reference to the brunet - and used the tight hold to roll himself over, so he was on top. Knowing what was about to happen, James lifted his head up to catch Oliver's bottom lip between his own and initiate the kiss. He soon fell back into the grass, his hands wrapped around Oliver; one between his shoulder blades and the other at the waist, under his shirt. Minutes passed before they became restless for more and Oliver pulled himself up to take off his shirt; James did the same, settling the man on his lap as bare, warm skin roamed. Shoes came off next, and James' hand found his way to the rim of Oliver's trousers.

He held on tight and flipped them over, easy to do since Oliver was leaner and lighter than him. It was a silent agreement, a moment of trust between them, that gave James the confidence to take charge physically.

Oliver told him what to do.

***

The morning after was freakishly familiar to a dream Oliver once had, only instead of an alarm clock going off it was his watch, and instead of a bed they were on Room of Requirement's hard, cold floor - the illusion had broken for good some time in the night - with only their shirts to cover them. But with James' arm wrapped around his waist and their hands joined in an effort to turn off the watch, Oliver really couldn't care less.

He turned somewhat onto his back, most of him cushioned by the other man's chest. "Good morning," James muttered sleepily.

It didn't last; James rolled over as well, so they were both on their back, his arm still over Oliver's chest.

"Morning," he replied, grabbing his watch to check the time. He groaned "I have History in less than an hour."

"You could always stay here with me," James offered cheekily.

"I did not go through the trouble of making sure we didn't get caught here just to get caught with you for skipping class," Oliver informed him with a playful scowl. "Besides we have Potions this afternoon. It's a practical lesson. And you've got Quidditch practice this afternoon. Better to get up now than to keep making excuses to stay here all day."

I don't know." James tilted his head, able to see all of Oliver in the light when the shirt slipped down him. "I can think of a couple of good excuses."

Shaking his head but getting up quick to hide his smile, Oliver searched for his uniform and shrugged them on, thankful he'd thought to bring them. He decided to run to one of the bathrooms on the way to breakfast to wash his face rather than try and sneak into the common room he should have slept in.

Eventually James did the same, putting last night's clothes on; Oliver had thought about bringing his spare uniform as well, but since everyone had known he'd left it wouldn't be such a shock to see him come back in.

They left the basket, would take it to the kitchen after classes. At the door, Oliver pulled James in for one more kiss, a silent thank you for last night even though he wasn't completely sure what he was thankful for. "I'll see you at breakfast."

"Ten minutes," he promised.

They left the Room of Requirement one at a time and Oliver felt a pang of regret for making them hide.



A/N: Stuck in the Middle is complete! All I have to do now is post them. 23 chapters instead of 24, I merged to at some point because it felt too short.

Points to whoever knows about Ellie's.

I hope you enjoyed this chapter. Please let me know what you think. The next chapter will be up in a few hours (it's bedtime now).

Sam.

Chapter 20: Closer
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There was a big difference between cheering for a friend and cheering for a boyfriend, Oliver found during the Gryffindor game against Hufflepuff. Friends kept the cheering neutral, since most people tended to have friends in more than one House. There were no sides and you didn't really care who won (on the outside, inside you usually want your own House to win); you congratulated each friend either way. But with a boyfriend, you'd go against your own House if they played for the other team, even grudgingly. It was like giving your all in support; they hoped for it and you wanted to give it.

So Oliver was more than thankful for two reasons: one, the Hufflepuff friend was a girl in the wider group he wasn't all that close to; and two, both he and James were in Gryffindor. Both those reasons made cheering a little harder for James less awkward. Not that most people noticed; he was still fearful of heights, so suddenly jumping up and down like a crazed fangirl wasn't in the cards, and he still took more pictures than he spoke, and he still took more notice than James than the actual game. But having known him and his habits for so long, it was easy for Sarah to catch the larger smiles when James got closer to the snitch and the fact that he now knew what different passes and fouls were.

James' Quidditch lessons were beginning to stick. It was terrifying for both of them.

The game ended almost three hours after starting, with James catching the snitch right out from under Hufflepuff's Seeker. Beating them by fifty points, their chances of winning the cup at the end of the year rose. They met up with James and Tucker on the grounds, saying goodbye to their other friends and waving them off. That James came with his broom confused only two of them.

There was no talking between them, no sound other than four sets of relatively steady breathing creating a distorted rhythm. James just stared Sarah and Tucker down, waiting for them to get that he wanted them to leave as well. Oliver watched it happen, torn between pity and amusement.

"Oh," Tucker finally realized and took Sarah's hand, leading her away. Too confused to protest, Sarah let him. "We'll see you two later."

"Great game," Oliver started once they were alone. "I even got what was happening."

James looked at him the way a teacher would at their protege. "I'll have to find something new to teach you."

The suggestion Oliver whispered into his ear had his face turning red with such speed, it had to be a record. His only reply was to mount the broom and pull Oliver on behind him, kicking off straight away. The ride to James' secret spot across the lake went much faster than the first time they'd gone; their focus wasn't on flying and James flew like his own, private snitch was on the other side.

The landing was bumpy, both of then jumping off the moment they touched the ground, and Oliver fell into James with a thud, crashing onto the ground. But since that was where they wanted to go, neither protested much.

T-shirts pulled up and lips on skin, James followed through with Oliver's suggestion.

***

"One day, we'll do this in a bed."

Stretched out on the grass - actual grass this time - and feeling too tired to put on his top and re-button his jeans, Oliver just turned his head and watched James for a reaction.

The man in question merely scoffed. "That's so normal. Who wants that?"

"Sometimes normal is nice," he pointed out, with a laugh. "And it doesn't hurt my back or stain my clothes."

James took his hand and squeezed. "Next time."

The idea of a 'next time' was a given, considering their relationship and how far they were progressing, but it still made him smile. A year ago - hell, even a few months ago - he hadn't considered a relationship happening or working. Now here they were and sometimes it still took him by surprise.

It had only been two and half weeks; a few more weeks and he was sure he'd feel like they'd been together forever.

(Add in all of his old fantasies and he didn't think it would be very hard.)

"Hey!"

"What?" Oliver asked guiltily, unable to believe that he hadn't heard James speak.

"Are you looking forward to your birthday?" he repeated with a grin.

"Oh. I don't know. Is eighteen any different to seventeen?"

James opened his mouth to speak, and then paused to actually think about his answer. "Not really for wizards, but in the Muggle world more things are legal now. Drinking, for example. And marriage, I think."

"Well, I'm not ready to get married, but the drinking one will work. In America, the legal drinking age is twenty-one."

"That sounds horrible," James muttered, pulling a face. Oliver only rolled his eyes. Of course he thought it was horrible; not only had he not grown up with that law but Oliver knew for a fact that James had started drinking at fifteen, at least. He knew because it had been Ryan's first party, so he'd been there and had started drinking at fifteen.

Speaking of... "I think Ryan wants to throw me a birthday party."

"Ryan wants to throw everyone a birthday day just for an excuse to have a party," James pointed out.

They wasted the afternoon on the bank of the lake, Oliver trying to figure out what he was getting for his birthday and using downright dirty tactics to do it. None worked; either he was trying really hard to keep the secret or he didn't have one yet.

Patience, he'd been told to have last time. Maybe that would work well again.

***

"Happy birthday!"

The screaming was not uncommon and as of late, neither was being jumped on (though it did hurt like hell). His own cries forced him to turn onto his back, but he kept his eyes closed no matter how much he wanted to throw something at them.

"Should we kick him?"

"Shut up, Lily!" they collectively shouted at her.

The covers were pulled off. "Damn, he's wearing underwear."

"You sound so disappointed, Ryan," Oliver muttered, opening his eyes and sitting up. He was officially awake and Sarah, Ryan, Tucker, Emily, James, Aidan and Lily were all hovering over his bed. Since Roxanne hadn't joined them and Aidan was currently lifting up Lily to keep her away, Oliver assumed the poor guy had just been woken up himself.

"Of course I'm disappointed," his Slytherin friend sighed. "Your reaction to that would have been so much funnier."

"What will it take to get you all to leave? I wanna get ready for class."

Lily slumped in Aidan's arms, her ponytail bouncing and hitting him in the face as she did so. "Did he completely ignore or forget the very first thing we said?"

"No," Sarah assured her. "He's just a freak who's never really cared for his birthday?"

"I cared," Oliver protested, too tired to feel uncomfortable in his underwear with James watching him, as well as everyone else. "But then my grandma thought it would be a great idea to hire a clown for my fourth birthday... I hid the closet. Ruined everything, that did."

"I genuinely can't tell if he's taking the piss," Sarah whispered.

Ryan rolled his eyes. "That doesn't matter. What matters is his birthday today. Now," he turned to Oliver, his eyes alight with excitement. "We'll leave you alone all day if you promise to come to the charms classroom at eight, the small one we used to use opposite the big one we use now, and enjoy your celebration and open your presents."

"Who'll be there?" Oliver enquired.

"Just us friends, with music and no alcohol." He gave Emily a pointed glare; she blew him a kiss. "We'll just sit... and sing happy birthday."

That didn't sound too bad. While thinking about his answer, Oliver caught James' gaze and his quick nod. "Fine," he said. "Now get out, I'd like to get dressed."

They all left except for Aidan, who went back to his own bed and reluctantly dressed. They did so in record time, not wanting to leave a snake alone in a common room full of lions.

The very thought was horrible... for the lions.

***

Ryan kept his word; a few people who knew Oliver well enough wished him a happy birthday, including Albus and Professor Burns, but unlike his seventeenth when Ryan had enchanted banners following him around everywhere he went, it was a relatively quiet, normal school day. He handed in his homework, got homework marks back, passed his mini Charms quiz, and did it all with nothing jumping out at him. Oliver knew why it was easier for his friends to resist, eighteen wasn't as important as seventeen here, but that usually never stopped them, so he was thankful to them for letting him have a peaceful birthday.

As promised, Oliver was at the classroom for eight o'clock, Sarah trailing behind as though waiting to grab him if he tried to run. Which didn't even cross his mind until he'd noticed her. The rest of his friends were already in there, lounging on desks and a couple of chairs Emily probably Transfigured. He was passed a drink the moment he was noticed, but a quick examination revealed it to be juice - Ryan had kept his promise as well.

He found Ryan laughing with James and Tucker by the old teacher's desk and went to join them.

"Oh, hey, Oliver," Tucker greeted upon seeing him. Oliver raised his hand in a wave and took a seat next to James, sitting as close as he could without it being too obvious. "Dion and Jake said to wish you a happy birthday; they couldn't come. Well, they could, but Jake had booked the pitch days ago for a little practice and Dion promised he'd train with him."

"Jake really didn't want to give it to Anna-Sophia," Ryan added. She was Slytherin's Seeker.

"Okay," was all Oliver said on that subject, wondering just how happy James actually was to hear it. He didn't seem to react at all; he counted that as a win.

Conversation turned to homework and classes, then to final exams and graduation, before moving to music and dancing. As the hours passed, Emily was giggling as Ryan spun her and Tucker managed to get Sarah to agree to one that turned into many.

"Maybe she lost a bet," James had said, not realizing that the smile on her face was genuine.

"You're next," James said next, standing up and holding out his hand.

"Here?" Oliver hissed, not wanting the others to hear. But James had obviously planned for it.

"The birthday boy must dance, it's like a law," he replied. "I was the last one here, so it has to be with me. It's just one little dance."

"It has to be?"

"Yep." With his back to everyone else, no one saw him wink.

Oliver sighed, pretending it was a hardship - and it sort of was; he wasn't the best dancer - and reached out a hand for James to pull him up. They joined the others in the middle of the room and wrapped their arms around each other, so it was more like a hug than a dance.

"I wish I could kiss you," James whispered halfway through the song.

Hating the resigned tone of James' voice, the knowledge that he was doing it all for him, Oliver could only think to say, "Soon."

And God, he hoped he meant it.

Neither noticed Ryan watching them.

***

James got him a watch. A silver chain that clicked together, a black face, lines instead of numbers and the date in the corner, it was probably less expensive than it looked. Not that Oliver cared. He'd had fifteen minutes to thank James before Aidan and Tucker came into the dorm and he'd used the time well.

Sarah wondered how expensive it was when she saw it in Potions the next morning; she hovered over his desk and fired questions at James, hoping he'd give in, but he was getting a lot better at working under pressure and barely flinched. When the professor came in, James moved to sit with Tucker at the next desk, but Oliver grabbed his arm and pointed; they were both surprised to see Sarah already there and sitting down, Tucker included. Eyes wide, James sat beside Oliver and the look on his face made it clear he was just as confused as Oliver; she only ever sat there when James refused to move from her usual seat and he made sure to only do that once a week. They found themselves thankful it was a theory lesson; Oliver doubted even James would be able to make an acceptable potion with his mind a million miles away.

The library followed their classes, with the two barely separating in each one they were in together, and they took Oliver's usual spot at the back, where it was the quietest. What was supposed to be a couple of hours of studying turned into two of them going over Charms while the other two conversed about creating charms. More specifically for special effects.

Sarah and Tucker sat further away from Oliver and James, their chairs facing the desk with their feet on top. Tucker's arm ended up around the back of Sarah's chair while his other hand demonstrated what he was talking about.

Whatever he said made her laugh and slap his chest - though the action was so light she might as well have just flapped at him - and Oliver wondered if she was attempting to flirt.

"So this is what happens when we leave them alone," he mused, a little scared.

James disagreed. "No, she's definitely a doppelgänger and the real one has been snatched. Or she's an alien."

It continued right up until they left to get ready for dinner. It wasn't until they were almost at the Gryffindor common room that James and Oliver realized that the four of them were being watched once again.

Only this time, they really couldn't see how it was their fault.



A/N: A filler-y chapter, mostly to see Tucker and Sarah. Things will happen again in the next chapter, which will be up in a couple of hours.

I hope you enjoyed. Please let me know what you think. :)

Sam.

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