Chapter 5 : Opening up
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A week had passed since James had brought up the idea of the party with his dad, and yet he hadn’t done any planning. At seven o’ clock that morning, James woke up fully awake and excited. It was a bright summer morning and the sun was streaming in through his windows. He sat up on his bed, inhaled the fresh morning air circulating in his room and rubbed his hands in anticipation of the day unfolding ahead of him. He went out to the balcony, turned his face upward to absorb some morning light and grinned to himself. He had a feeling it was going to be a good day.
After taking a quick shower he headed towards the little forest at the back of their property with a piece of parchment and a quill. The forest had always been his hide-out. It was calm, safe and peaceful. It had a way of bringing clarity in the murkiest of situations. He always felt a divine tranquility there, like nothing had the power to affect him while he was there.
As he walked towards the lake in the middle of the forest he noted offhandedly that the forest looked darker than usual. There were shadows in places he hadn’t noticed before. Somehow that made the forest a little eerie. He had never gotten this kind of feeling in the forest before. Something wasn’t right. There was no living creature walking around in the forest, which in itself, was very alarming. The forest was deadly quiet. The lake was so dark that he could barely see the edge of the water. Quickly, he took out his wand and light came streaming out of it. James had always been good at nonverbal spells. He had discovered in his third year at Hogwarts that he was much better than a lot of adults at casting nonverbal spells. Unlike most people, his spells were actually stronger when he performed them silently because he was able to channel all of his energy into the spell when he didn’t have to utter them out loud.
There was nothing in the lake. He felt a little chill and a cold that penetrated his bones and made him shiver. He looked upwards. It looked like the sky was overcast. There was nothing more threatening than rain there. But the clouds looked unusual. They weren’t floating in the air like usual. They were just hanging in the air motionless. Strange, he thought. It had been so bright half an hour ago when he had left his room; there had been no warning of rain. He turned out his light and tucked his wand back into his pocket.
He was about to walk back to the house to get a little warmer when he heard someone say “Lumos Maxima” and a bright flash of light fell over his eyes leaving him blinded for a few seconds.
“What the hell!” he exclaimed moving out of the light and rubbing his eyes. He instinctively reached for his wand, but then knowing that the light was not a dark magic withdrew his hand.
“Oh it’s you! Sorry I heard some rustling and wanted to see who it was.” Grace’s voice came out of the dark.
“Well you didn’t have to cast the blindingly bright spell to see who it was.”
“In case you haven’t noticed, it is really dark,” she said a little defensively. “And I didn’t think anyone of us knew about this lake. At least I haven’t ever seen anyone here before. Uncle Harry has always warned us against venturing out into the forest. So I thought the light would momentarily confuse whoever was out here and I would have the chance to run away if I needed to.”
“You are so paranoid! I should ask dad to not tell you any more stories.” James laughed.
“Uncle Harry hasn’t told me any stories. I have read them of course. But that’s not why I was being careful. Even now, there are horrors in this world, James that you have been too sheltered to know about. It’s always better to be safe than sorry,” she said a little somberly.
“Whoa, where is that coming from? You okay, Gracie?” he asked, concerned.
“Yeah I am fine. I guess I am just a little jumpy now after hearing the news about the murder of the muggle girl this morning. She was just eleven, you know.”
“Hey, hey, that’s the muggle world, Gracie. We live in the wizarding world. Murders don’t happen in our world anymore,” James said taking her face in his hand and turning it upwards towards him. He could only see her eyes in the dark but what he saw in there made him feel really protective of her. He wanted to chase away the fear and the grief from her eyes.
“I know.” Grace made a feeble attempt at a smile and walked out of his reach, shivering a little. She was cold, but was burning on the inside. That was a new sensation.
“Lumos,” he said lighting his wand one more time and noticed for the first time that she was wearing what looked like a bath robe that only came to her mid-thighs.
“Um, Grace, may I ask why you are walking in a forest wearing just a bath robe?” he said, hoping that would divert Grace’s thoughts from the gruesome murder.
Grace looked down at herself as if she hadn’t realized that and blushed. “Oh this, I was going to take a swim in the lake. I like swimming in the lake on a bright summer morning. Today had seemed like the perfect day, until I got here. Now, it’s too dark and too cold.”
James took out his wand and transformed the leaves lying on the ground into a pair of jeans and sweater. “Here,” he said handing Grace the clothes, “put these on. You may want to change into your real clothes once you are back in your room though unless you wanna be seen wearing leaves. My transforming spells are only strong enough to hold for a couple of hours.”
“Was that a nonverbal spell?’ Grace asked with a hint of awe in her voice, taking the clothes from James.
“Yeah, you must have learned about them in school last year.”
“We did. We also learned that they are extremely difficult to perform. I can’t even perform a simple levitating spell nonverbally yet.”
“It just requires some practice. I find them easier to perform, because once you have truly mastered the connection between your mind and your wand, the scope of the kind of magic you can perform becomes limitless. You don’t need any kind of incantation. You can channel your thoughts directly into your wand to make it do what you want it to do. That also forges a connection between you and your wand. So, nobody can perform a nonverbal spell as well with a random wand as they can with their own.”
James sounded like a scholar then. Now Grace could understand why he had received “The most promising student” award at his graduation. His knowledge and talents extended beyond the Quidditch field. Beneath the carefree attitude, humor and the International Quidditch star status, lay a scholar and a very powerful wizard.
“What are you doing here anyway,” Grace asked. It was still dark, and she didn’t know if she wanted to stay there or go back. The forest had seemed a little creepy before she had seen James. Now that she was with James, she wanted to stay there a little longer.
“Um, I wanted to practice before lunch.”
“Don’t you think this forest is a little too dense to be flying around on brooms?”
“Not Quidditch. It’s a spell.” He was uneasy talking about it. So he quickly changed the topic. “But let me tell you, if I wanted to, I could fly in a forest twice as dense as this without being obstructed by a single leaf.”
“Of course. Who am I to question James Potter’s skills on a broom?” Grace said with a smile.
“Now that we are here anyway, do you wanna sit down by the lake for a little bit?” He noticed that in Grace’s presence the chill that had seemed to engulf him earlier had faded away. Even the sky seemed to be clearing up a little bit.
They walked together to the edge of the water and sat down looking at the ripples in the water created by the slight breeze. James thought he had seen a reflection of something moving in the water, but when he looked up, there was nothing.
“How did you discover this place?” he asked Grace knowing that he was pulling her back from memory lane. “Not every kid goes swimming in a lake in the middle of a dark, dense forest.”
“James, I’m not a kid anymore.” Grace started to stand up, but James caught her hand, and tugged at it, making her sit down again.
“Hey, sit down. You get worked up so easily.” He laughed. “I was just messing with you. I am not gonna call you a kid anymore, okay? I can see that you’ve grown up into a beautiful woman.” He turned away quickly, realizing that he might’ve said something he shouldn’t have.
“Um, thanks,” Grace said uncertainly.
“Anyway,” James said looking at her again, “are you gonna tell me the story?”
“Story? What… oh yeah. But you’ll think that I was really stupid to… you know.”
“Go on, tell me. I won’t laugh at you.”
“Ok, you remember the summer after your graduation, when I stayed at the Potter mansion for the first time?” James nodded and she continued softly, “there were days when I felt so happy, when I felt like I was on the top of the world because then it seemed like I was finally a part of the normal world, that I was part of a happy family.
“But um…” She looked at James and looked away quickly. “Sometimes I felt very much like an outsider, looking at a picture of the perfect family. I felt like an observer watching the perfect, happy family wistfully. I felt like an alien.” She looked at James. He was looking at her with an unreadable expression.
“Gracie,” he started to say something but Grace stopped him.
“I know there was no reason for me to feel that way. Uncle Harry, and aunt Ginny, and everyone else made sure of that. Everyone has always been so nice to me. Maybe that’s the reason I felt that way. I would see aunt Ginny yelling at you a lot, yelling at Lily, sometimes even at Albus, but never at me. You know, James, when someone yells at you, scolds you, you realize how much they love you. I was never scolded, just loved more than I deserved.”
“I can assure you, you were never loved more than you deserved, Grace. I was always the love police at home, making sure no one got more love than they deserved.” James tried to crack a joke.
“James,” Grace said warningly, with a if-you-interrupt-me-again-I’m-not-gonna-tell-the-rest look. James silently nodded and Grace went on. “So, after about a month, one night I finished dinner early and I watched you all eating your dinner happily and chatting away. Once again, the wave of grief and wistfulness swept over me and I felt guilty for feeling that way. I thought I didn’t deserve to be among such nice people when I couldn’t fully appreciate and be grateful for what they had given me. So, I ran away.”
James looked at her wide-eyed, but didn’t utter a word. So she spoke again. “I quietly got out through the back door and blindly ran, sobbing all the way. I didn’t know where I was going. Maybe I did. I think I was trying to be defiant, deliberately going into the one place I had been forbidden to go. I ran till I was breathless, till my heart was hammering in my chest and was threatening to give out or burst.
“I ran until I could no longer run or walk and my legs gave out. I fell on the ground around here somewhere. That’s when I first saw the lake. My left arm dipped into the lake and the cold, chilling water brought me back to reality. It knocked some sense into me but by then I was too tired to go back and apologize. I just felt asleep.
“I awoke a while later to someone shaking me. It was uncle Harry. He swooped me off the ground and hugged me and then aunt Ginny came running towards me and pulled me close to her chest and started asking all these questions to make sure that I was okay. I couldn’t speak. I merely cried. I didn’t hear what she was asking me. All I kept thinking was how I could’ve been so stupid as to leave the one family that had come to love me.” She finally looked at James. It was more than just a glance. She was silently asking him what he thought about what she had just said.
“Wow,” James let out a deep breath and gave her a side hug. “Didn’t know you were the running-away type.” He laughed.
“You’d be surprised.”
He was still shocked to say anything else. After a minute he seemed to have recovered from the shock and pulled away, slowly smiling and said, “So, Gracie, let me know if you still wanna be scolded. I can gladly fill up that void in your life.” He sounded mischievous.
“Why, thank you, James. You’re ever so kind. But you see, aunt Ginny took care of that, the very same night. After we got back and I was safely tucked into my bed, all warm and clean, aunt Ginny gave me an hour long lecture on how careless and selfish I had acted and how I should’ve known better. I remember going to sleep with a big grin after she left my room that night.” She smiled at him.
“That’s too bad. I had already thought of all the things I could say while yelling t you.”
“James! You’re incorrigible.” She laughed. “Anyway, you never told me how you discovered this place.”
“You didn’t really think anything near our house would be hidden from me, did you?”
Grace just looked at him blankly.
“Ok, fine, I will tell you. I taunted Albus once about being a wimp when he was about eight. To prove me wrong, he very bravely ventured out into the forest all by himself, leaving me a note that I only discovered a couple of hours later. I got worried and told dad about what had happened.
“So dad and I went looking for Albus and found him here by the lake, sobbing uncontrollably. He had gotten lost and did not know how to get back home. I received my own share of lecture from mom that night for taunting my little brother. Albus on the other hand just received more pampering.” He smiled fondly. “Mom has always been a little partial to Albus though she won’t admit it.”
“Well I am sure he hasn’t given her as much trouble as you have.” Grace was laughing. She loved James’ spirit. He wasn’t resentful of his brother. He had just stated it as a fact, secure in his knowledge of his mother’s love for him.
James smiled and nodded. They sat in silence for a couple more minutes and then James spoke up.
“By the way, you said you’d help me with the party?” Grace nodded. “So why don’t you start by making a list of Lily’s friends that she will want to invite? I am going to make a list of family friends. And then we can start writing the invitations. We can’t have the house elves help us with that because if Aunt Hermione found out, she would have my hide.”
Grace laughed remembering how passionate Jame’s Aunt Hermione was about the rights and liberty of house elves. “I am on it.”
“Thanks, Grace. Oh and make sure that you include Glen Woods on the list.” He smiled and added, “and Alex, of course!” Grace blushed again. She didn’t know what was up with her. Whenever James made a reference to her and Alex together, she couldn’t help but blush. She always felt like she was doing something wrong.
“Do you need help writing out the invitations? I could help you with that.”
“Oh, that’d be lovely. Thanks, Grace.”
“No problem. Well it doesn’t look like the sky is going to clear up. You wanna head back before uncle Harry comes out to the forest to find us?”
“Yeah lets go.”
They headed back together. As soon as they got out of the forest and the mansion came into view, the day turned as beautiful as the morning had. The sun was shining brightly again and there was not even a trace of cloud in the sky.
It had been a strange morning.
“How about I meet you in the den at four this afternoon and we can start writing out the invitations? Lily’s birthday is only two weeks away.”
“Sounds good. See you later, James.” Grace headed towards her room to change into real clothes. So much for swimming!
Exactly at 4:15 pm, James was waiting in the den for Grace. Grace was fifteen minutes late and he knew for certain that Grace was never late. There had to be a good explanation for it. However, there was no point in just waiting for her. Waiting for her wouldn’t make her come sooner, and it wasn’t as if he couldn’t write invitations without her help. In fact, he didn’t actually need her other than to speed things up. So he might as well get started. Almost an hour later, he heard footsteps and strained his neck to see whose footsteps those were.
“Hey, James, sorry I’m late.”
James waved his wand in the air, making all the quills that were writing out the invitation on their own stop. “That’s okay, Grace. Almost half of the invitation is ready to be sent. I need the list of Lily’s friends from you though. I have also made a list of everything we will need for the party. Come and have a look and tell me if there is anything important that I have forgotten.”
“Sure. Um… James, I am sorry you had to get started without me.”
“Don’t worry about it, Grace.” James said hoping that his disappointment didn’t show on his face. Grace looked at him and just smiled. He, on the other hand was trying to figure out the most offhand way of asking her where she had been. But he was finding it hard to be casual, since he had been so restless waiting for her.
“James, I think you forgot that there’re going to be underage kids too at the party. There should be something besides firewhiskey, red currant rum and mulled mead.” Grace said after a thorough reading of the list.
“Oh, totally forgot about that. But that’s not gonna be any fun. I mean what’s a party if not everyone is drunk?” James whined like a five year old.
“James Potter, are you telling me that you plan on getting drunk in front of your parents at the party?”
“Who said parents are invited?”
“I’m sorry, but you sound sillier by the minute. It’s Lily’s birthday party. Of course her parents are going to attend.”
“Whoa, Grace, slow down. I am not serious. It’s true that I actually forgot to put non-alcoholic beverages on the list. But I was going to get some butterbeers, some pumpkin juice and some gillywater too.”
“Oh I’m sorry. I thought you were being serious. I mean, well, you know…” She trailed off.
“Yeah, I know. I’m James Potter after all.” He laughed. Grace merely smiled at that, a little embarrassed. “So kept you from coming sooner?”
He hoped he sounded casual and that Grace couldn’t sense anything lying underneath that question. And if she did, then he hoped she would tell him what it was since he wasn’t having any luck figuring out what it was that he was feeling. This feeling was new to him. Never before had he had to think twice before saying anything to Grace. Talking to Grace had always been as easy as talking to Lily. However, it wasn’t so anymore. Something had changed after Grace’s first outburst on the balcony. But what was it? And why did everything seem so different this summer?
Grace looked at him and looked away again. Her cheeks grew a shade redder.
“Um, I was hanging out with Alex. He’s been helping me practice apparating so that I can take the test in a couple of weeks. I forgot that I was supposed to meet you at 4. I am sorry.”
“Oh,” James found himself incapable of saying anything and quickly turned away so that Grace wouldn’t notice any change in his expression if there had been any. But Grace was too busy trying to hide her blush to notice anything else.
“Well, I am glad you are here all in one piece then,” James said trying to change the mood. “Mom said uncle Ron splinched his eyebrows when he took his test the first time around.”
“Well, that’s very reassuring. Thanks, James!” said Grace, but she was glad for the humor.
“Anytime,” and he winked. He let out a sigh of relief. Things were back to normal again.
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