“Alright everyone, found your partners?”
Slughorn stood in the front of the classroom, beaming at them as always as they settled down at their desks for their second Potions lesson in their fifth year. Ava was already trembling slightly, and it increased as she saw James walking towards her gracefully, his bag slung casually over his shoulder, his hair as cute and messy as ever.
“Hey Ava,” he said nonchalantly and plopped down in his seat beside her. She jumped a foot as she registered he had remembered her name, blushed furiously, and mumbled a quick, “hello James.”
What he did next shocked her so much her throat closed up completely. He turned his chair around to face her, one arm slung over the back of his chair, the other on the table, his face amused and inquiring.
“Somehow I get the feeling that you think I’m gonna bite.”
She opened her mouth and closed it again, at loss for what to say. He waited patiently for her to make a sound. She cleared her throat. “Well, umm, I wouldn’t – I don’t …I don’t think you’re going to bite …” she finally stuttered, and broke off.
He grinned. “Well, just for the record, I can assure you that I’m not.”
She nodded, nervous, but no longer trembling. The tension had eased somehow.
“Silence!” Slughorn bellowed from the front. “I want everyone to start working now on the potion we discussed last lesson! Get to work!”
Ava frowned resignedly; she had no idea what they had discussed the lesson before. She had been too preoccupied with staring at James.
“Well, if I remember correctly, it was the Potion Aquilus, right? Something about transforming objects into birds?”
She felt she had no choice but to nod.
He obviously knew that she had no idea, but he acted as if they had figured it out together. “Well, great then,” he said cheerfully, “I’ll get the ingredients, you’ll prepare the cauldron, what do you think?”
She amazingly managed to light a fire beneath the cauldron at their table, and her hands were only shaking slightly. It was so much easier to talk to James than she had ever expected!
But still she felt her face heat up with a warmth that had nothing to do with the fire when he returned with the ingredients quickly.
“Let’s do this!” he said, still in that assuring, cheerful voice. He put the ingredients onto the table and turned to her, smiling encouragingly. “Well?”
And as he looked at her with pure friendliness on his handsome face, Ava suddenly realized what he was thinking. He thought she was a failure at Potions, he thought she wouldn’t be participating unless he helped her to it by encouraging her. She was struck by how nice he was, but also by embarrassment since he had to be thinking her stupid.
But she might be shy and self conscious and clumsy, but she was not stupid. As a matter of fact, she had no idea why she was in Gryffindor and not in Ravenclaw. She wasn’t brave by any means, but she did have some brains. And if intelligence was the only thing that could possibly work in her favour, she knew that she would have to pull herself together and achieve something.
And so they set to work. Ava worked with concentration, trying hard not to let herself be distracted by James’ closeness. He let her do the first couple of steps, doing the basic work like preparing ingredients. He watched with a frown as she worked accurately with the ingredients he had prepared.
“Well, there you go!” he said, and she took pleasure in realizing that his voice sounded surprised and impressed. “It looks like this is gonna be great for my grades, working with you!”
He smiled at her again, and she blushed in a pleased way, not caring that she knew perfectly well this was a total lie. If anything, his working with her would be good for her grade, because he had the confidence to participate in class that she lacked. He was top of the year, and as she had heard extremely talented; but still she appreciated his efforts to make her feel more comfortable.
They worked in silence for the next quarter hour, until James took the conversation up again. “So Ava,” he said while weighing Bowtruckle nails, “I know this is somewhat embarrassing, but I really don’t know much about you. And since we’re going to be Portions partners for the rest of the year, why don’t you tell me something about yourself?”
She swallowed, but was able to not drop the pot she was holding at being asked to talk about her life. No one had ever taken interest in her before, and now the first person who did was James Potter, the James Potter …
“Ermm,” she said quickly, before her thoughts could run away with her. “Well, there’s not much to tell, my life isn’t really that exciting … I like to read, and my favourite subject is Transfiguration, but … that’s about it.”
He laughed. “Okay, I’m gonna have to help you. Favourite colour?”
“Hazel,” she said without thinking, and immediately wished very much she hadn’t. She glanced up at him from her work worriedly, but apparently he had not noticed the connection to his eye colour – or he hid it well.
“Ahh … none, really. I – I prefer to stay in school.”
She laughed nervously. “I – I know this sounds geeky, but … well, home can sometimes be a bit … not so comfortable.”
She peeked up at him again and he was frowning. “Why?”
“Parents,” she mumbled quickly. “They fight a lot.”
“Oh.” He dropped the subject much to her relief. “Well … what more favourites are there?”
“How about animals, James?” came another voice from two tables to their left. Ava turned so fast she craned her neck and found herself staring right up at Sirius Black, who was smirking down at her.
Sirius Black. Ava didn’t know him at all, and yet she had never quite been able to find him nice. He was handsome in the extreme, far more so than James, and she knew that. Sirius, with his longish black hair falling elegantly into his fathomless grey eyes, his tall body, very muscular for a sixteen-year-old, high cheekbones, and casual-arrogant vibe, was the fantasy of every girl in the school. But he knew it – he knew it all too well. And while James was confident and easy-going, Sirius was haughty and arrogant, knowing what he wanted and very used to getting it. He was the exact opposite of her own, quiet personality, was everything she was not, and exactly the kind of person that wouldn’t know her name even if they sat beside her in class every single day for seven years. He was the height of popularity, while she was the bottom of it, and because he knew how admired he was and used it to his advantage, she had always thought of him in a displeased way, if she had thought of him at all.
Right now, he was grinning over her shoulder at James, his best friend, and had obviously listened to their conversation. “Animals, right, thanks Sirius,” James said cheerfully. “Favourite animal, Ava?”
She smiled somewhat nervously, looking from James to Sirius, the two people she would have expected to talk to her the least. But she answered immediately. “Dog. I’ve always wanted a dog.”
“Really,” Sirius said, now addressing her directly, and seeming truthfully interested. “What kind of dog?”
She smiled, the thought of her childhood dream enough to make her not think about who she was talking to and how nervous she had to be. “A black one. Really big,” she said dreamily. “The kind of dog that you would feel safe with anywhere. With this mass of shaggy fur that you could practically use as a pillow.”
Sirius eyebrows rose slightly. “Ah,” he said indifferently, and turned back to his cauldron, not saying anything more. Ava was slightly confused, but had not time to think about it as James nudged her.
“Well, how about asking me about my favourites?”
And amazingly, unbelievably, she did, and they had a whole conversation for the rest of the lesson, and she even managed to work correctly despite her nervousness. And when Slughorn passed them at the end of the lesson, looking into their cauldron, he smiled appreciatively and winked at them. “I think we have another dream team!” he announced happily. “Full marks, Mr Potter and Miss Crissel!”
Ava blushed, but James immediately spoke up. “Her name’s Christensen, Professor,” he said politely, but somewhat sternly.
“Oh right,” chuckled Slughorn. “Sorry, Miss Christensen. No homework for you two today, you did a great job with your potion. Alright, pack up everyone!”
James smiled at her as they cleaned up the ingredients and shouldered their bags. “Well,” he said before they left, “I told you I didn’t bite. See you next time.”
And he left to catch up with his friends.
Review, my lovely readers!