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Every Second Counts by A_Johnson49
Chapter 3 : At My Party
 
Rating: MatureChapter Reviews: 2


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I am thankfully saved further interrogation from Dad by Mum running in telling us to get ready to leave for the Burrow. I eagerly exit the room, but not before Dad looked at me as if to say 'We’ll talk about this later.' What have I gotten myself into? When Mum finally rounds up Al and Lily, the five of us Floo to the Burrow, and are welcomed by a sea of fiery red hair: our wonderful family, who are, of course, all Weasleys.




Well, all except for Teddy, who is as good as a family member, considering Dad is his godfather. He’s the older brother I never had, until he decided that he wanted to get his own flat. He’d lived with Andromeda while growing up, but had been staying with my dad frequently since before I was born. It’s always nice to see him, but I wish I could see him more often.

Fred tackles me as soon as he saw me and I pull him into a headlock while his arms are still wrapped my middle. I see Mum turn around at that noise and I know what’s coming…

Mum explodes. “JAMES SIRIUS POTTER! WHAT ARE YOU DOING? WE ARE GUESTS IN THIS HOUSE AND THIS IS NO—.” Thankfully Nana walks in and saves my skin.

“Now, Ginny. You were no better when you were living here.” Nana walks by with a wink to me and Fred and the whole sitting room of her older brothers bursts out laughing. Mum turns even redder, if that was possible. I’m so glad I don’t blush like Mum.

As I walk through the room getting cheers of ‘Happy Birthday’ and some encouragement to use magic now that I’m of age, I finally see who I am looking for: my Quidditch team. I had already seen Fred, the Keeper, on account that he just tackled me in the kitchen, but there was also Phillip Finnigan and Roger Thomas, our other two Chasers, and the Scamander twins, Lorcan and Lysander, our Beaters.  I’m sure our incredible Seeker, Meredith Blount, is around here somewhere, but she’s not with the rest of the guys.  I was captain last year and this team was the best I’d ever played on. 

Being an all-boys team had been something of a goal for me, Phillip, and Roger since our first year was a team of all girls and they didn’t win a single match.  Fred and I made the team second year, and Phillip and Roger made it fourth year.  We had a bit of a celebration when we realized we finally outnumbered the girls and, for the first time since we started school, our Captain was actually a bloke.  The next year, fifth year, our Seeker and one of the Beaters were girls.  The Beater was alright.  She had good technique and I helped that she was about six foot five.  But our Seeker was… well…

She was god-awful.   We only just barely placed second in the Quidditch Cup.  When I became captain last year, Phillip and Roger thought we were going to finally be able to fully fill the roster with proper men.  I know I said that I had shared that thought, too, but that was before I met Meredith in fourth year after she completely stomped me in our duel in Defense. I’m pretty good in Defense, but she can cast one mean curse… and fast!  After my humiliation, she and I started talking and ended up becoming really close that year.  I learned that she was a fantastic flier and an impressive Seeker and I was the one to convince her to try out for the House Quidditch team in fifth year.  Seeing her during the trials that year changed Phillip’s and Roger’s minds completely.  Meredith didn’t make it, even though she was loads better than our previous seeker…*cough*Victoire*cough*. Oh dear, that must have slipped out somehow…

I have no idea why Victorie Weasley was seeker my fifth year. It was probably because our bloke captain was being a bloke and got caught up in her ‘aura’ or some such rubbish.  She can usually get what she wants from any guy she approaches.  I suspect it’s because she’s an eighth Veela and half Weasley. That combination of charm and determination can pretty much suck anyone in.

Not that it would work on me.  Ew… she’s my cousin.

I can’t say too many awful things about her, however, since Teddy’s dating her now. He would pummel me ruthlessly if I spoke a word against her. To be honest, he’s been like that with most his girlfriends and I’ve learned the hard way to watch what I say around him.

Phillip and the Scamander twins greet me excitedly as Fred and I approach. “James! Happy birthday, mate!”

”Thanks Phillip. Good summer, Lorcan? Lysander?”

“Good as it could be,” Lorcan responds. “We went to Sweden with Mum for a few weeks. It was fun, but considering we’ve gone at least once a year since we started school, I’m starting to wonder if we ever will see a Crumple-Horned Snorkack. They seem to be rather reclusive.” Lysander nods sadly in agreement as Fred rolls his eyes and shakes his head behind them.

“Sounds great,” said Phillip, patting Lysander on the shoulder. Looking to me he asks, “So, Captain, have you thought up any new thrilling strategies over the past week since I’ve seen you?”

“Of course! Who do you think you’re talking to? I’m going to go ahead and hold the standard trials, but you all don’t anything to worry about. We need to pick a few reserves, though, just in case one of you lot have the unfortunate experience of being out during a game.”

“Us?” Roger objects, faux-offended.  “Aren’t you the one getting detentions every other weekend?”

I wave Roger off and Lysander pipes in. “What if you end up in the hospital wing due to our excellent beater skills during practice?” he said indicating himself and Lorcan. There was a pause as the six of us glance at each other. 

Then we burst out laughing, causing the room the turn and stare at us for a moment. In my six years at Hogwarts, I have never been in the hospital wing from a Quidditch injury. It is a bit unusual, but I’m definitely not complaining. It’s become a bit of a joke inside the team, though.

My teammates start talking about various accidents and injuries they’ve experienced and I fall out of the conversation and look hopelessly through the crowd of people wishing to Merlin that Julia was here right now. Maybe I wouldn’t be confused if I was actually in her presence.

Maybe not.

I’m jolted out of my musings by someone behind me saying my name.

“James?” The familiar female voice makes me smile as I turn to see my cousin Rose smiling up at me. She’s pretty short, but don’t get the wrong idea. She’s so much like her parents that it’s scary. With big, bushy hair, quick mind, and a temper to match, I don’t know how guys even tolerate her… but please don’t tell anyone I said that. A few guys at school have asked me if I, as her cousin and friend, could set them up with her.

After the first few ended up as birds from ‘accidental’ consumption of Canary Creams, others learned to not mention that to me and from that, guys at school have learned not to say such things about my sister (at least to me… I know how guys are). I got told off by Rose for doing it, and out of fear of her dangerous temper, I backed off of her case. Lily on the other hand, is a completely different story.

Honestly, Lily can date whoever, as long as she keeps it to herself, and as long as her boyfriend stays away from me. There are very few guys that dare to give her a second glance because of this unspoken rule.  I think she knows, but I really don’t care.  Al and I are pretty protective of our little sister. I really don’t go out of my way to make guys avoid her, even though that’s what Rose claims that I’m doing.  Lily hasn’t complained about it, yet, so I’m not changing anything I’m doing.

“Hey, Rose,” I reply giving her a hug. She and I have always gotten along well, even if she is Al’s age.

“Happy birthday!” She looked past me and then around the room and added, “Where’s Julia?”

“Thanks.”  I take a step back and ruffle my hair. “Umm… Julia?  She couldn’t make it.”

“Oh, okay,” she frowns slightly, “Why not?” I know that Rose doesn’t like Julia at all. I have no idea why most of my friends don’t like her. Well… except for Fred.  I know exactly why he hates her. They try to avoid conversations with and about Julia and I don’t press the matter, though today I wish someone would be straight with me about her.  Maybe defending her will clear my head.

“She said she was going to be in Ireland for the summer, so she can’t see me until school starts back.”

“Oh, okay.” That same frown forms on her face as I said this but she smiled and adds, “So, how has your day been so far?”

I really didn’t know how to respond, so I shrug my shoulders and reply “Not too bad, just avoiding the mob outside our house as usual.”

“Have you seen Meredith today?”

“Mer?” I’m confused as to why this question came next.  I was expecting her to ask what else I had done that day and really don’t feel like talk about that damn letter.  “No.  Not yet.  I only just got here, you know.”  Rose watches me with a peculiar expression.

“Any particular reason?” I ask as she stares.

There something strange in Rose’s face.  I get the feeling she not telling me something.  “I just thought you would want to catch up with your mates first thing.  You haven’t seen Meredith since school let out.”  This is true.  She went on holiday to France right after term ended

Our conversation is interrupted by an explosion of laughter as I see Uncle Ron and Uncle George race quickly outside, followed by a steaming Uncle Percy. Sometimes I feel sorry for all the ridicule Uncle Percy gets and the jokes cracked about him, but he is so stiff that I think he deserves it most of the time.

Hugo, doubled over in laughter, manages. “Uncle George and Uncle Fred… when they were in school… changed Uncle Percy’s Head Boy badge to say ‘Bighead Boy’ and… and he didn’t notice until his girlfriend saw it… and he couldn’t figure out how to change it back, so Uncle Fred gave him the ‘counter-spell’ but all it did was make the badge grow twice as big and only say ‘Bighead’.” Laughter erupted from around the room at the explanation and I hear Hugo say, “I only knew half that story before! You should have seen the look on Uncle Percy’s face!”

Sometimes I miss my Uncle Fred, even if I never knew him. We would have so much fun planning pranks and coming up with new products… George listens to my ideas and uses them sometimes, but everyone says he’s not as experimental as he used to be when he and Fred were together.  Uncle Ron helped Uncle George move on and stepped up to help cover the jokester’s spot in the family and now helps run their stop since retiring as an Auror, but apparently Uncle George hasn’t been the same since his twin died.

I wave to Rose, indicating that I am leaving, and direct my path towards my team once more.  Out of the corner of my eye, I see the door to the kitchen open and I glance to it to see who just entered.

A sudden wave of heat washes over me from head to toe. I feel my stomach flip and my heart rate increase.  Everything feels like it’s moving in slow motion.  Meredith Blount has just entered the room, the filtered sunlight from the window to her right causing her dark brown hair to shine brilliantly.  Her skin, tanned from her holiday in France, seems to glow in the light.

She looks my and smiles widely in greeting.  I stop abruptly, frozen against my will.

Am I having a heart attack?

No.  That doesn’t make any sense.

It feels so warm in here.  Why doesn’t anyone else seem bothered by it?

Meredith’s smile turns into look of curiosity.  My breath catches.  What’s happening to me?

It's probably the added heat from the sunlight in the window.  I just need to get somewhere cooler. 

I divert from my path to walk over to my Grandpa Arthur who is across the room in his favorite armchair.  Grandpa looks up at me revealing the object he had just been avidly inspecting. “James! Happy Birthday! Seventeen already?”

“More like, seventeen finally.”

He snorts a short laugh and says, “You say that, now. Time will feel like it flies by faster the older you get!” I smirk at his cliché and Grandpa laughs. “Oh, yes.  I almost forgot,” he holds up the object in his hands so I can see it. “James, I know you know more about Muggles than most of the others in the family, so I wanted to ask you something. I came across this our backyard and couldn’t for the life of me figure out what it could possibly be for.” He places the object in my hand and I smile slightly.   I wonder what odd explanation he has come up with for this.  “I was thinking that it could possibly be used for automobiles. Being so bright, it may be what they use in the lights on the front so they can drive at night and-”

“It’s a tennis ball, Grandpa,” I cut in.  He gives me a curious expression and I add, “Tennis is a game Muggles play. They use something that looks like a paddle made out of a net to bounce balls like this over a large net between of the players.”

“A tennis ball?”  He scratches his head and laughs, “Well, what do you know! The things Muggles come up with to amuse themselves. Why don’t you take it, James? I don’t have much use for it and I don’t think your Nana would like it very much if I started a new Muggle collection,” I put the ball in my pocket as he heaves himself up and says, mostly to himself, “Now I better see if Molly needs help with dinner.”

I love it at the Burrow. I look around the living room where my numerous relatives stood, sat, leaned (as well as many other positions hard to describe) on the furniture. In the corner I saw Al, my cousin Hugo, and, of all people at Harry and James Potter’s birthday party, Scorpius Malfoy, talking. Well, Hugo and Al were talking. Scorpius was staring at something… or someone…

I follow his gaze to where several of my female relatives are standing, including Lily and Rose. Okay… not cool. Al better keep his sneaky mate in check or I may do something rash.

I feel a tap on my shoulder and I turn around to once again be bathed in heat. Meredith stands before me smiling and, once more, my heart starts beating faster.  So… I guess it wasn’t the sun.  I have never felt this way before.  It’s throwing me off and making me worried. It sort of feels like the feeling I get before a Quidditch game.

Nerves? 

But why do I feel nervous?  It’s just Meredith? I have known her since fourth year!  She’s one of my best mates!


“Hey James,” she greets warmly and my chest constricts.  It’s hard to breathe. “Happy birthday! How has it been so far?”

“P-pretty good,” I manage to reply. I can’t control my shaking hands and I hide them behind praying to Merlin that Mer didn’t notice.

“I heard the mob was exceptionally horrid today,” she says.  “Did you find anything interesting in the attic?” I had told Meredith pretty much everything about what I do on my birthday.  It’s always been so easy to share things with her and she’s always had funny things to say about what I find.  I would normally tell her all about what I found, even about the letter, but I can’t seem to think straight at the moment.

“Yea-yeah, it was pretty bad.”

“What: the mob or the attic?” She laughs at her own joke and my heart skips a beat. I’ve never been this tongue-tied around Meredith.

I’ve never been this tongue-tied around anyone.  In fact, I usually have the opposite problem and say too much. I nervously giggle back.

Oh Merlin. Did I just giggle?  Bloody hell, something really is wrong with me.  She looks at me questioningly. “Are you feeling okay? You look flushed.”

“Of course I’m okay.” I note with disdain that my voice is abnormally high. “I’m fantastic! Superb! Never better!” Her inquiry, however, brings heat to my already flushed face.  

Damn it!  I have to be looking like Mum, now.  

I need an escape.  Desperately trying to kick my brain on I blurt the first thing I can think of, “I think I’m going to take a walk.”

I walk away from Meredith as quickly as I can and make my way through the kitchen to the door, hoping that no one follows me. I walk into the warm afternoon and look around. The Burrow looks as it always does and it comforts me after strangeness I just experienced. The familiarity of the whole place has always made me feel safe.  Boy, do I need safe after feeling what just happened when I was talking to Meredith.

That was scary.

I spend several minutes outside collecting myself.  The sun is kissing the horizon and I close my eye and take a deep breath all the wind whips my messy hair around even more.  The summer breeze is soothing.  

With one final breath, I hesitantly return to the house.  Mum grabs me as I enter the kitchen for dinner.

“Where have you been?” she asks appalled.  “This is your party!  You can’t just leave.”  She points in the direction of the bathroom.  “Wash your hands.  It’s time for dinner.”

I don’t say anything, knowing that even agreeing with her will set off her already short temper. She is always on-edge today, but I can’t say I blame her. It has got to be stressful being the wife of the famous Harry Potter, especially on a day commemorating his existence.

At the table, I sit with my mates. Thankfully, Meredith is sitting on the same side of the table a couple seats down from me, so I’m not forced to look at her.  I doubt I would have been able to swallow if I ended up in the state I was in before.  Fred brings up the Chudley Cannon’s season and how he’s positive that they’re going to make a comeback (however impossible it may seem). I’m personally a Puddlemere United supporter, much to my Uncle Ron’s dismay, but I can talk about anything with Quidditch, so I’m not about to object to that. At least this gets my mind off of Meredith.

After Nana’s amazing-as-always dinner, it’s time for “birthday festivities.” This just means that we eat cake and open presents, which is always festive when you have such an extensive family. As always, I get my usual stash of Wheezes items from Uncle George along with a couple of galleons because, he says, ‘You’re going to need it after school’.

Wow… That’s something that I haven’t even begun to think about.

Mum and Dad give me a watch for coming of age. It looks like Dad’s watch, which I’ve always loved. They also gave me a couple of magic instructional books for guitar (‘­follow along with the lead guitarist from the Weird Sisters!’), which I don’t really understand.   I’ve talked about getting a guitar for a while, but I don’t have one, yet, so guitar books before an actual guitar don’t really make sense. 

I receive a pair of chaser gloves from Phillip and Roger and Fred gives me a set of hair ties, “…to hold back your hair, mate.  It’s getting a little long and I don’t want it to mess with your game.”   I throw the gift at his head as the room laughs at my expense, before moving on the last gift in the stack. 

Meredith grins excitedly as she hands me the neatly wrapped box.  “This one’s from me,” she explains unnecessarily.  She was the only one left.  I tear the paper off enthusiastically, heart pounding once more.   Inside of the small box lay a miniature guitar with a note underneath it –I shrunk it with magic myself, because I’m older than you. Happy birthday, little baby James.  P.S. – this is the last time I can make fun of you for still being a minor while I’m an adult.  L

I look up at Meredith, utterly speechless.  Her smile is the biggest I’ve ever seen it.  I’m so stunned, I don’t even care that my heart is doing back flips for that smile. Meredith pulls out the miniature instrument and puts it and its case back to normal size and hands the guitar to me. I hold my gift and glance back around the silent room.

My parents are smiling slyly at me.  Obviously, they were in on this secret… which does explain the books. They’ve always liked Meredith and helping her get the perfect gift for me was probably no problem for them.

I look around at my friends and family, but a sudden realization crashes over me a like a cold wave: Julia didn’t send me anything.  The crowd in my grandparents’ sitting room has started talking and breaking up.  Mum is packing up our things and getting ready to leave.  Mer continues sitting beside me, beaming and though the thought of Julia forgetting my birthday is definitely a downer, the pure joy in Meredith’s face makes it impossible for me not to smile back at her.  “Thank you,” I say, sincerely.   I honestly had no idea I meant this much to her.  That or she’s just tired of my air guitar.

Meredith put so much thought into her gift.  Would Julia do that for me? 

I can’t even imagine it. 

Her parents are Muggles, though, and she doesn’t have an owl.  It could be that the gift is still on the way or got lost in the mail. 

Looking down at the guitar in my hands, my heart sinks.  I don’t believe that at all. 

She’s my girlfriend!  I should trust her… but I don’t.  I should give her the benefit of the doubt… but I keep shooting down every possibility in my mind as implausible.

This is stupid.  That letter is getting to me for no reason.  Julia and I have been together since February!  We don’t have to do that mushy stuff for each other anymore but I can’t help but wonder if she even cares about me?



 

 


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